(Ilana Messika/TPS) Fresh off a Super Bowl victory for his New England Patriots, team owner Robert Kraft announced funding for a professional-standard football stadium outside Jerusalem. Kraft will donate $6 million to the few-hundred-seat stadium that will be situated outside Jerusalem and is slated to open later this year.
Kraft is a longtime supporter of Israel and made headlines in 2015 by holding a pre-game moment of silence for 18-year-old Ezra Schwartz, a Boston native who was murdered in Gush Etzion while studying in a post-high school yeshiva program.
The stadium will be the first regulation-sized American football field in Israel, and is the latest indication of the sport’s growing popularity in the country, and not only among American immigrants. To meet the growing demand, there are plans for three more regulation fields over the next decade, in the south, center and north of the country.
“This initiative originated from Israelis and Americans who simply wanted to play football,” said Israel Football League CEO Betzalel Friedman.
The announcement of the new stadium coincided with news that a delegation of 11 NFL players will arrive in Israel on February 13 for a seven-day visit. The visit follows a similar visit by Major League Baseball players last month. Both groups are part of a push by the Tourism Ministry to have high-profile athletes serve as “goodwill ambassadors” for Israel following their visits.
“I think this delegation of NFL stars to Israel is very important,” said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. “I have no doubt the visit will be a powerful experience for them and one that I hope will give them a balanced picture of Israel, in contrast to the false incitement campaigns that are being waged against Israel around the world.”
“I hope that the players will present the beautiful face of Israel to their tens of millions of fans in the United States. [My ministry] is spearheading an intense fight against de-legitimization and BDS campaigns against Israel, and part of this struggle includes hosting influential people and opinion makers of international standing in a variety of fields, including sport,” added Erdan.