How do you say “tackle” in Hebrew?
It’s tek’l, the Israeli pronunciation of the English term, and Israeli sports fans will have growing opportunities to say it — the FieldTurf Israel Football League, the country’s first tackle football league, will kick off Nov. 16, when Big Blue Jerusalem hosts Dancing Camel HaSharon at the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem.
The IFL is comprised of four teams that will play every-other-week nine-game schedules until March. Players pay their own way. “This is totally amateur,” says Steve Leibowitz, founder and president of American Football in Israel, the nonprofit that operates the IFL.
The tackle league grows out of Israelis’ growing interest in futbol amerikai, the American brand of football broadcast on cable TV, and out of a popular flag football league.
Most of the players in the IFL are Israelis, not immigrants or students from the U.S., says Leibowitz, a Queens-born journalist who made aliyah in 1974. “The game of football has reached a lot of Israelis … It caught the imagination of Israelis. It’s hard-hitting. It’s a strategic game. It’s a spectacle.”
The IFL’s establishment follows the inaugural season of the professional Israel Baseball League this year. The IBL attracted mostly émigré fans; Leibowitz says the IFL (www.ifl.co.il) hopes to develop a Sabra following.
With heavy coverage for two recent pre-season games, there is already “quite a lot of interest,” he says. Yediot Achronot headlined a feature story on the league “Doing Zionist football.”
The three non-Jerusalem teams will play on converted soccer fields, with mobile goal posts brought for each game. Games will feature eight players on a side instead of 11, and the number of kickoffs will be limited to reduce the chance of high-collision injuries.
Equipment was shipped from the States. FieldTurf, an American-based manufacturer, is the league sponsor.
The level of play: U.S. high school football. “We have some solid football guys,” Leibowitz says.