Ben Sahar, at an age where most of his friends are studying for their bagruyot (high school matriculation exams) is on the verge of a breakthrough into one of the richest football teams in the world. He has already been banging in goals for Chelsea's reserve and U21 team and looks set to make his first team debut fairly soon. Fame, glory and considerable wealth await him in the English Premier League.
On his last visit to Israel however, Ben received a similar letter to that which all his friends received, requesting that he report to the army to commence the tests which would culminate in his serving 3 years in uniform. Although the army tends to put talented athletes in facilities where they can train, his manager at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho, could not have been best pleased at this state of affairs (which many would argue is a good thing)
The Guardian, reports that in Israel "sportsmen who refuse to fulfil their national service are prohibited from representing their country in national teams". If correct, this statement itself raises an interesting discussion, namely that Arab players such as Walid Badeer, who are not called up to serve can represent the Jewish State, whilst Jewish players, called up to serve but who do not want to, cannot.
In the past, this would have left Sahar with two options; either to serve and to put his career on hold (as did Yossi Benayoun and Eyal Berkowitz) or to stay put in England - in other words, desert from the army which would have meant not returning to Israel other than to serve jail time. The former option is to his detriment although Benayoun and Berkowitz are decent players, neither has played for a top side (only 2 Israeli players have). Chelsea attract the top talent in the world and to make the breakthrough to play alongside them must mean that Sahar is an outstanding talent - to put the brakes on his career would be bad both for him and for the national team. The other option would also be bad for the national team - he'd never play for them.
And so a third option has been found; MK Haim Katz (Likud) is proposing a bill which would allow him to "serve" in the Israeli Embassy in London whilst continuing his football career, and still being eligible for the national team. I for one, would not be surprised if our football loving PM called for coalition discipline and the bill were to pass into law.
This would seem to me to be an interesting but possibly dangerous precedent. Certainly, it's the case that the army already does make allowances for certain talents; those who are academic overachievers can study at University before joining up and can serve in their field and musicians can continue to develop their careers (albeit with limitations) in an entertainment troupe. In both cases however their is still time spent in uniform, directly serving the country. Whilst I would agree with Sahar's mother's to an extent that he will be an Ambassador on the pitch, it is difficult to quantify this contribution. How far would this idea be stretched? To any sport or only those which Israel deems important? And what about those who are talented in the arts?
Having grown up in England, I can testify to the importance of success in sport for unifying a nation. When England has performed well; in the World Cup of 1990, the Europeans in 1996 and the previous Ashes series, people have a pride in the nation and walk a little taller than normal - success internationally is important and if this step has the effect of strenghtening our sports teams then I believe that the idea will have served a good purpose, one which large numbers of Israelis will be supportive of - the idea of a deferment or ficitional service for the national good.
Just a shame it's Chelsea who'll benefit.