PHOTOS: Ronaldo, Salah, Ndidi, Other Footballers Celebrate Christmas In Style

A photo collage showing Ndidi, Ighalo and Salah as they marked Christmas.


Cristiano Ronaldo as well as some Nigerian footballers joined the rest of the world to celebrate this year’s Christmas, taking to social media to share some stunning photos. 

The Portuguese legend posted a family photo and captioned it, “Feliz Natal!”

Those in the shots included Cristiano Jr., 11, twins Eva and Mateo, Alana – wearing matching red pajamas along with the former Real Madrid star and five-month pregnant Georgina.


Ronaldo was not the only player who shared photos of his family while celebrating the day.

Nigeria’s Leicester City midfielder, Wilfred Ndidi, also posted a photo of himself, his wife, and baby on Instagram.

“Merry Christmas to you and yours,” he wrote.

Former Nigerian international, Victor Moses, also sent his wishes to fans in a picture.

“Merry Christmas everybody from Moses family,” the former Chelsea man added. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Victor Moses (@victormoses)


For Simon Moses, the Super Eagles star published a photo of himself wishing fans a “Merry Christmas”.

Super Eagles returnee, Odion Ighalo, was also among footballers who took to social media to mark the day.

Liverpool forward, Mohamed Salah, Everton’s Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa; Gabonese star, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and a host of footballers including Di Maria, Erling Haaland, and Neymar also shared some stunning photos for the day.



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Mohamed Salah (@mosalah)



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by @alexanderiwobi




Marta Silva



View this post on Instagram


A post shared by NJ 🇧🇷 (@neymarjr)




View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Robert Lewandowski (@_rl9)

Kevin De Bruyne 

Thomas Muller


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Thomas Müller (@esmuellert)

Six Footballers Test Positive For COVID-19 Ahead Of AFC Tournament

A health worker wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit tests a swab sample for COVID-19 at a primary health centre in Hyderabad on September 3, 2020. NOAH SEELAM / AFP


Six footballers from two countries have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus, the Asian Football Confederation said, as Champions League matches were set to kick off in Qatar Monday.

The annual tournament was due to resume after a six-month suspension since March.

The AFC said five players from Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal and another from Qatar’s Al Duhail were found with the virus following tests on all teams taking part in the western region of the tournament.

“Those who tested positive are under medical supervision in a quarantined environment,” the AFC said in a statement.

It added that a member of Al Hilal’s management team also had the virus.

The identities of the seven were not revealed.

The news comes days after the AFC said “several members” of the United Arab Emirates-based Al Wahda FC team, who were second in the League’s group A section, had tested positive for the virus.

UAE sports officials asked for the group matches to be postponed, the AFC said, but the request couldn’t be entertained as many teams had already arrived in Qatar.


COVID-19: Eight Footballers Test Positive In Mexico

Health officials take samples of saliva and nasal fluid from a resident (L) to test for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Tangerang on April 2, 2020. FAJRIN RAHARJO / AFP.


Eight footballers from top-flight Mexican team Santos Laguna have tested positive for the coronavirus, the club said Wednesday, jeopardising attempts to restart the national league after two months of suspension.

A decision on the possible resumption of the Mexican league, the Liga MX, had been expected by the end of the week, and the tests were carried out with a view to resuming training.

“This particular situation makes resuming the league more complicated,” Santos Laguna’s owner, Alejandro Irarragorri, told TV sports channel TUDN.

He also hinted that the situation at Santos Laguna could be even worse, because so far only 22 results have come back out of 48 tests on players and coaches.

Liga MX said the players with COVID-19, whose identities have not been revealed, were asymptomatic.

Two other clubs, Guadalajara and Monterrey, are also carrying out screening for the disease. Monterrey said it had not identified any positive cases.

READ ALSO: UN Urges EU To Take In 160 Migrants Stranded At Sea

With more than 6,000 fatalities, Mexico has the second highest coronavirus death toll in Latin America after Brazil.

Play stopped in the Liga MX in mid-March, and less than a week later the league’s president Enrique Bonilla announced he had caught the disease, without serious symptoms.

The president of San Luis, another club in the Mexican league, has also been diagnosed with COVID-19.


German Doctor Warns Footballers Of ‘Irreversible’ Damage From COVID-19

(L-R) French midfielder Corentin Tolisso, Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara, Spanish defender Alvaro Odriozola and French defender Lucas Hernandez wear face masks as they arrive for a training session of the German first division Bundesliga football club FC Bayern Munich on May 13, 2020 at the Bayern’s campus in Munich, southern Germany. Christof STACHE / AFP.


Despite rigid hygiene guidelines for the restart of the Bundesliga this weekend, a leading German sports doctor has warned footballers are still at risk of suffering “irreversible” and potentially career-ending lung damage from the coronavirus.

With Europe’s other top leagues at least a month away from resuming, the German Football League (DFL) has drawn up strict rules for when games restart this Saturday.

Matches will be played behind closed doors, with only a limited number of media and officials allowed to attend.

The key games see second-placed Borussia Dortmund at home to Schalke in Saturday’s derby and leaders Bayern Munich, who are four points clear, visiting Union Berlin on Sunday.

Players have been told to limit contact, even on the pitch, and must avoid pre-match handshakes and hugs to celebrate goals.

The DFL says while no plan could ever be “100 percent safe”, the guidelines aim to create a playing environment with a low, “medically-justifiable risk”.

However, professor Wilhelm Bloch, from the German Sports University in Cologne, warns that contracting the coronavirus has the potential to end a player’s career.

READ ALSO: EU Offers Vaccine Hope As WHO Warns Virus Here To Stay 

“There is a risk that top athletes may lose their level of performance and never regain it,” Bloch told AFP in a phone interview.

“Generally, the physical makeup, immune system and cardiovascular system of elite athletes means that the risk to them is low.

“However, we do not know at this time whether even minor infections, or even mild symptoms, do not cause damage, such as minor scarring of the lungs after an inflammation.

“This damage may be irreversible, or may last a very long time before the body repairs it.

“We’ve already had players infected in Europe and we’ll soon know if they recover their full potential.”

– Increased injury risk –

Bloch said it is near impossible to estimate what the risk is to footballers in Germany, which currently has 172,239 recorded cases of the virus and over 7,700 deaths.

“Players are not in total quarantine, they are with their families, even if they have been instructed to limit contact,” he said.

“And there are also risks during matches.

“They will all be tested, but not all the coronavirus tests work perfectly. There is a relatively large margin of error.”

The sports doctor says another concern is injuries to players, given their lack of match fitness since the league stopped in mid-March.

“Obviously, the players are not optimally prepared,” Bloch said, with clubs only resuming full team training last week.

“Depending on the degree of preparation, the risk of injury increases.

“We can expect that the players will be more prone to injuries.

“We will see muscle injuries, but also injuries to the musculoskeletal system and tendons.

“You can’t compare it with the start of the season.

“At the beginning of the season they normally have a very intensive training period, then a short break so that the body can regenerate, and then they attack the season.

“Now, that hasn’t been possible for all the teams.”

Bloch also wonders how players can be expected to throw themselves into tackles after weeks of being told to observe social distancing.

“I’m not a psychologist, it’s difficult to assess, but I think it’s going to be a difficult transition and it won’t necessarily be good for their performance,” said Bloch.

“It’s also going to be one of those factors that you have to consider and one of the risk factors for injury.”


Ronaldinho Closing In On 70 Days Detention In Paraguay

(FILES) In this file photo taken on March 07, 2020 Brazilian retired football player Ronaldinho (C) and his brother Roberto Assis (R) arrive at Asuncion’s Justice Palace to appear before a public prosecutor who will decide whether to grant them bail or not following their irregular entry to the country, in Asuncion. (Photo by Norberto DUARTE / AFP)


Lawyers of Brazilian great Ronaldinho, are hoping the former world player of the year will be allowed to go home after more than two months of detention in Paraguay over a forged passport.

“We’re hoping to convince the prosecution to allow Ronaldinho and his brother to return to their country. We can do nothing but wait for the investigation to end,” a defense source told AFP.

Former Barcelona, AC Milan and Paris Saint-Germain star Ronaldinho and his brother, Robert de Assis Moreira, are facing up to five years in jail if convicted.

The brothers spent more than a month behind bars after they were accused of entering Paraguay in possession of false passports.

The 2005 Ballon d’Or winner and his brother posted bail of $1.6 million and have been under house arrest at the plush Palmaroga Hotel in the historic centre of the Paraguayan capital Asuncion since April 7.

The public prosecutor has six months to investigate the case, and has ordered the arrest of 18 in connection with it.

“There is not one single serious proof that incriminates him,” Rogelio Delgado, president of Paraguay’s footballers union told AFP.

“Although he has a luxury prison, it’s very unfair that he’s still being detained,” added Delgado, a former Paraguay international.

The 40-year-old Ronaldinho has been keeping a low profile since being released from behind bars, not least because of coronavirus lockdown measures.

“I was completely caught off guard when I found out that these passports were not valid,” Ronaldinho told Paraguayan newspaper ABC last month in his only public statement since his release.

Ronaldinho, considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, was crucial in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup win.

He and sibling Robert — who is also his business manager — initially encountered no problems after arriving in Asuncion from neighboring Brazil on March 4.

However, shortly after their arrival, the pair were taken into police custody when investigators raided their hotel following discovery that their passports were fake.

Ronaldinho, given a rock star’s welcome to Asuncion by around 2,000 children and teenagers, said the documents had been given to him by sponsors of a charity working with disadvantaged children.

The investigation has since expanded into a case of possible money laundering.

African Celebrities Join Fight Against Coronavirus With Donations, Songs

(FILES) This file handout illustration image obtained February 3, 2020, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Lizabeth MENZIES / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / AFP.


Footballers and musicians have been on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus in Africa, reaching not just for social media to spread awareness of the dangers of the virus but also for the cheque book.

Among the first to step up was Senegalese winger Sadio Mane — a key player in Liverpool’s push for the English Premier League title this year –- who donated 30 million CFA francs ($50,000) to his country’s National Medical Commission to fight the deadly microbe.

In Ivory Coast, former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba gave masks to the cathedral of Abidjan, with the warning: “My sisters, my brothers, I ask you to take the matter very seriously… we tend to be too light about our reactions to the situation.”

Another great African striker, the Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o, also now retired, was quick to urge African communities to adhere strictly to precautionary measures.

“My African brothers and sisters! Corona Virus has taken over our lives. With malice, arrogance and without notice,” Eto’o wrote.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Forcing Parents To Skip Kids’ Vaccinations – UNICEF

“It knows neither race, religion nor political parties. It kills the rich and the poor. Even in countries where research is done well, the consequences are disastrous. Unpredictable.

Eto’o spent most of his playing career in Spain.

“For all these reasons my brothers, sisters, dear parents, I ask you to respect the instructions given by the authorities of our countries and the World Health Organization.”

Affected after Asia and Europe, sub-Saharan Africa has recorded only 1,642 cases and around 20 deaths, according to an AFP count at 1100 GMT Thursday from officially declared cases.

The continent, however, fears a lightning-like spread that would overwhelm its already fragile health structures.

In South Africa, the most affected country on the continent, Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi released a couple of videos online showing himself at home with his children, adhering to the isolation regulations laid down by President Cyril Ramaphosa

“Stay safe, stay strong, let’s fight this together,” he says.

– Musicians give support –

African musicians are also stepping up as the continent faces one of its bleakest hours.

Youssou N’Dour, described by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 as “the most famous singer alive” in Senegal and Africa, handed over a batch of medical equipment to the health ministry in Dakar in mid-March.

Fellow Senegalese rappers collective “Y en a marre” (‘Had enough’) set aside their usual antipathy towards corruption and current politics to release a song called “Fagaru Ci Corona” which warns of the dangers of the virus and advises on washing hands and wearing masks.

They are among other artists who have temporarily laid down their protests against governments to join forces and rally around messages being put out by the authorities.

In Uganda, singer Bobi Wine, a member of parliament who was arrested in early January for his opposition to President Yoweri Museveni, has asked his fans to “watch the social distancing and quarantine”, in a video on Twitter.
– ‘We want to live!’ –

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, rumba star Fally Ipupa stepped away from romance for once to post a video on Twitter called “Fally in confinement mode, the kisses stop”, an improvised melody on an acoustic guitar.

“Stay at home, respect the instructions given by the authorities and the WHO,” Kinshasa crooner said.

The authorities of DRC have not imposed confinement yet but they have closed borders, public places, and put the capital Kinshasa in lockdown.

His compatriot Koffi Olomide, a soukouss singer, a modern version of Congolese rumba, warned fellow countrymen against the “Kuluna-virus”, deftly weaving in the term “kuluna” which indicates armed gangs of Kinshasa, one of the urban legends and terrors of the capital.

In Ivory Coast, the singer DJ Kerozen also alluded to the virus in a new song: “‘There’s a corona, let’s respect the hygiene instructions, the deal is serious, oh..(. ..) Even Mbengue (slang for France), over there, it’s spoiled… we want to live! ”

The Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, who had become a reference for just about every musician in Africa, died in France this week at the age of 86 as a result of the coronavirus.

The composer of “Soul Makoss” was the first world celebrity to succumb to the virus. Congolese singer Aurlus Mabele, a figure in soukous, also died a week ago in Paris from the virus.


Study Finds Footballers 3.5 Times More Likely To Die From Brain Trauma

In this file photo taken on September 19, 2019 Former Rangers teammates French player Gregory Vignal (R) and Belgian player Thomas Bouffel (L) pay their respects among the tributes to former Rangers and Netherlands player Fernando Ricksen, ahead of the UEFA Europa League Group G football match between Rangers and Feyenoord at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow, Scotland on September 19, 2019. PHOTO: ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP


A new study carried out by Glasgow University has found former footballers are approximately three-and-a-half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases than the general population.

The report, released on Monday was commissioned by England’s Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association to assess the medical records of 7,676 men who played professional football in Scotland between 1900 and 1976.

Their records were matched against more than 23,000 individuals from the general population, with the study led by consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart of Glasgow University.

His findings report that the “risk ranged from a five-fold increase in Alzheimer’s disease, through an approximately four-fold increase in motor neurone disease, to a two-fold Parkinson’s disease in former professional footballers”.

Although footballers had a higher risk of death from neurodegenerative diseases, they were less likely to die of other common diseases, such as heart disease and some cancers, including lung cancer.

The study – titled ‘Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk’ found that deaths in ex-footballers were lower than expected up to age 70 and higher than expected over that age.

Dr Stewart said in a statement: “An important aspect of this work has been the ability to look across a range of health outcomes in former professional footballers. This allows us to build a more complete picture of health in this population.

“Our data show that while former footballers had higher dementia rates, they had lower rates of death due to other major diseases.

“As such, whilst every effort must be made to identify the factors contributing to the increased risk of neurodegenerative disease to allow this risk to be reduced, there are also wider potential health benefits of playing football to be considered.”

Earlier this year, UEFA requested for a change in the game’s laws to reduce the pressure on the medical staff and give doctors more time to assess head injuries off the pitch, so that no concussed player returns to the field of play.

“The whole game must recognise that this is only the start of our understanding and there are many questions that still need to be answered,” said FA chairman Greg Clarke said.

“It is important that the global football family now unites to find the answers and provide a greater understanding of this complex issue. The FA is committed to doing all it can to make that happen.”

Outgoing PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has been strongly criticised for his lack of action on the subject, in particular by the family of former West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle, whose 2002 death from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was linked to repeatedly heading heavy leather footballs.

Taylor said it was now “incumbent on football globally to come together to address this issue in a comprehensive and united manner”.

He added: “Research must continue to answer more specific questions about what needs to be done to identify and reduce risk factors.”


Turkey Defends Footballers Saluting Soldiers Involved In Syria Operation

Turkish players salute at the end of the Euro 2020 Group H qualification football match between France and Turkey at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, outside Paris on October 14, 2019.


Turkey’s sports minister voiced support on Tuesday for national team players who saluted the country’s soldiers during their Euro 2020 match with France.

Sports Minister Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoglu described the controversial goal celebration — in which players were seen as supporting Turkey’s current military operation in Syria — as a “nice salute”.

France drew 1-1 with Turkey in the Euro 2020 qualifier amid mounting tensions after Paris condemned Turkey’s military operation against Kurdish militants in Syria.

European football’s ruling body UEFA had already said it would “examine” a military salute given by Turkish players during an earlier match against Albania.

But the sports minister said the controversy was unwarranted, and pointed to the fact that French star Antoine Griezmann had also given a military salute to President Emmanuel Macron in June.

“Those who remained quiet about Griezmann’s military salute are trying to distort our national footballers’ nice salute,” Kasapoglu said in a televised press conference, holding up a picture of Griezmann’s salute.

He said critics were trying to distract from Turkey’s success in staying top of the qualifying group.

“Those who are trying to block out their failure on the pitch should give up on their efforts. The result is clear,” Kasapoglu said.

Kasapoglu also warned UEFA to be “prudent” in its investigation of the salutes.

Turkey’s operation against Kurdish militants in Syria, launched a week ago, has been widely criticised by the international community but has drawn widespread support at home.


Russian Footballers Jailed Over Drunken Assault Regain Freedom

Russian footballers Pavel Mamaev and Alexander Kokorin stand inside a defendants’ cage while waiting for the verdict in their trial for drunken assaults at a court in Moscow.  Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP


Russian footballers Pavel Mamaev and Alexander Kokorin were released on Tuesday after spending nearly a year in prison over a night of drunken assaults.

Russian state television showed Krasnodar midfielder Mamaev, 31, and Zenit Saint Petersburg forward Kokorin, 28, leave the prison where they were held in the southwestern Belgorod region.

Russian news agencies reported that Zenit Saint Petersburg has already signed a new contract with Kokorin.

“We decided to conclude a contract with Kokorin to run to the end of the season,” the club’s general director Alexander Medvedev told the RIA Novosti news agency. The football season ends in May next year.

Wearing black hoodies, the pair rushed to a car while refusing to take questions from the media gathered outside the prison.

A court this month granted the footballers early release following their convictions in May for last year’s attacks in Moscow.

Including time in pre-trial detention, they had served 11 months of their 17-18 month sentences for hooliganism.

In a booze-fuelled night last October, Mamaev and Kokorin first assaulted the chauffeur of a TV presenter as he waited in a car park.

In an assault caught on video, they then attacked two government officials in an upmarket cafe, hitting one of them with a chair.

The assaults sparked outrage in Russia, where the pair had previously caused scandal when a video emerged from a Monte Carlo nightclub showing them cavorting at a champagne-fuelled party shortly after Russia’s early exit from Euro 2016.

The Russian Premier League last year condemned the assault and briefly considered a lifetime ban.

Krasnodar still lists Mamaev as a player on its website, but the club has said that it will terminate its contract with him, which runs out at the end of the year.

Both players are Russian internationals though Kokorin last played for the national side in late 2017, while Mamaev was last selected in 2016.


Seven Charged Over Burglaries Of PSG Footballers


Seven people suspected of organising and taking part in burglaries at the homes of Paris Saint-Germain footballers Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Thiago Silva were charged in the French capital on Tuesday, according to judicial sources.

Six men and one woman, aged between 25 and 29, were detained in Paris and the surrounding area last Thursday. Six of those subsequently charged were remanded in custody pending their trial, while the seventh person was released under judicial supervision.

The gang stands accused of stealing items worth hundreds of thousands of euros from the PSG stars. The charges include “theft committed by an organised gang” and “participating in a group preparing to commit criminal acts”.

They are suspected of committing a total of five burglaries in upmarket neighbourhoods of Paris.

Last December, PSG’s Brazilian defender Silva had up to 600,000 euros ($666,000) worth of items robbed from his home in the plush 16th arrondissement while he was playing a Ligue 1 match against Nantes.

Two days later, Choupo-Moting’s home in the city was burgled for the second time in a month — he had previously been burgled while PSG were playing a Champions League game against Liverpool.

Items with an estimated total value of one million euros were stolen from the Cameroon striker’s apartment.

The most recent burglary occurred last week, on the night of August 20, when a member of the Saudi royal family reported jewellery and watches at an estimated value of 1.8 million euros stolen from his 6th arrondissement apartment.

Investigators believe they may have also been responsible for another burglary on the same street just a few days before.

Following Thursday’s arrests, the police raided the homes of the suspects and claimed to have discovered jewels, money, luxury fashion items and weapons.

Rescued Cave Footballers Granted Thai Citizenship

Twelve Thai boys and their football coach, rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped, attend a press conference in Chiang Rai on July 18, 2018, following their discharge from the hospital. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA / AFP


Thailand Wednesday granted citizenship to stateless members of the football team rescued from a cave last month in a saga which gripped the world.

The story of the “Wild Boars” club has dominated headlines since the 12 boys and their 25-year-old coach went exploring in Tham Luang cave on June 23 and were trapped deep inside by rising floodwaters, setting off an international search dubbed “Mission Impossible”.

They spent nine days inside subsisting on rainwater from rocks before being located. Days later they were extracted in a complex operation in which they were sedated, carried and stretchered out of the waterlogged passages.

Thailand is home to around 480,000 stateless people, according to the UN refugee agency. The long-ignored issue came into focus during the rescue mission when it was revealed that four of those trapped inside lacked citizenship, prompting calls for the government to fast-track applications.

“Today all of you get Thai citizenship,” Mae Sai district chief Somsak Khanakham said in a ceremony on Wednesday at a local office, as they were handed national ID cards.

Somsak told AFP that the “Wild Boars incident” had nothing to do with the development and said they had merely qualified.

But the event was advertised proudly on the local government’s Facebook page with the words: “Wild Boars revel! Got Thai citizenship.”

Many of Thailand’s stateless people are from nomadic hill tribes and other ethnic groups who have for centuries lived around the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and China.

The family of one of the four footballers granted papers, Adul Som-on, is from Myanmar’s Wa State, a self-governing region.

Weeks after the rescue, interest in their ordeal is still strong and Hollywood-style production houses are racing to take the story to the big screen.

But authorities have asked media to keep their distance while the teammates readjust to normal life, and avoid touching off lingering trauma.

The dangerous rescue brought all 13 members of the team to safety. But a former Thai Navy Seal diver died while installing oxygen tanks in preparation for the extraction.

Eleven of the boys and their coach recently entered a monastery for several days to ordain and “make merit” according to Buddhist ritual for Saman Kunan.


Israel Allows Footballers To Continue Playing On Shabbat

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office. PHOTO: ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP


Footballers in Israel will be able to continue playing on Saturdays after the government approved a waiver for the sport on the Jewish day of rest, officials said on Monday.

Matches held on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, have long been a cause of discord between less-observant Israelis and the country’s ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalist communities.

Judaism forbids working on Shabbat — observed from Friday to Saturday night — but football matches in Israel have historically been held on a holy day.

Labour and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz signed the general waiver on Sunday permitting football industry employees to continue working on Shabbat, his office said in a statement Monday.

The waiver was the result of a compromise reached with Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties, a key part of the governing coalition.

“The general authorisation I have granted preserves the status quo that has been in effect since the creation of the state,” Katz said in the statement.

“We will continue and strengthen the sport in Israel.”

Under Israeli law, employers must pay overtime to those who work on Shabbat.

Part of the first-division matches are played on Friday night or Saturday and watched in stadiums or on television by tens of thousands of Israelis.

In recent years, defenders of religious orthodoxy have attacked the sport’s exception.

In August 2015, a judge in Tel Aviv ruled in favour of second-division players who, out of religious beliefs, did not want to play during Shabbat.

The ultra-Orthodox, who scrupulously respect the rules of Judaism, have ensured that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, ultra-Orthodox himself, has the power to reject permissions granted to businesses to open on Saturday, with the exception of Tel Aviv.

The quarrel is one of many illustrating the long-running disagreement between the observance of Jewish religious rules and modern life.

The exemption of ultra-Orthodox Jews from military service was at the centre of a political crisis in March that almost led to the collapse of the government.