A professional soccer tournament in Argentina features a Jewish team for the first time in 57 years
The Náutico Hacoaj soccer club (Courtesy)

By Juan Melamed
March 1, 2024

TIGRE, ARGENTINA (JTA) — For the first time in nearly six decades, a Jewish soccer club is competing in an Argentine national soccer tournament.

The club, Náutico Hacoaj used its victory in the first round of competition to pay tribute to Israel.

The team represents the prominent Hacoaj (“strength” in Hebrew) Jewish community center and sport club in Tigre, a city in the north of the Buenos Aires province. Argentine tennis star Diego Schwartzman got his start at Hocoaj, which named its tennis complex after him in 2021.

Náutico Hacoaj is the first Jewish club to compete in the 14-team Amateur Promotional Tournament since the team from Buenos Aires’ Organización Hebrea Macabi was the undefeated champion in 1967. The tournament, which is professional despite its name, is part of the lowest tier of Argentina’s national football association.

“Hacoaj is proud to represent the Argentine Jewish community in this tournament,” Sebastián Salmun, Hacoaj’s soccer secretary, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “It is also one more opportunity to make our position clear: defend Israel every minute, demand justice and the release of all those kidnapped by terrorism.”

Hacoaj won its first tournament match Feb. 25, beating Atlético Pilar 3-2. After the victory, Hacoaj’s players posed with a banner displaying Oct. 7, the date of Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel, and the message “No olvidamos. Am Israel Jai,” Spanish for, “We do not forget. The Jewish people live.”

The Hacoaj team posing with a banner honoring Israel. (Courtesy)

An ESPN Instagram account highlighted Hacaoj’s win, touting the victory as a “historic” moment in Argentinian soccer. The post also referenced the Jewish significance of Hacoaj’s appearance in the tournament.

https://www.instagram.com/p/C3z28MFMcS6/

Ariel Brunfman, a Hacoaj player who was among JTA’s 36 Jewish student athletes to watch this year, scored the team’s crucial third goal.

“It was an important match for everyone — for the players, but also for the Jewish community,” Brunfman told JTA. “Starting with a win is key and a motivation to have a good tournament. I think this is a great group of people and individually, I am very happy with the goal. I cannot wait to celebrate other goals at home with our people.”

Hacoaj’s next match is Sunday at its home stadium, named for the late Israeli Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres, against Estrella de Berisso.

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