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“Everyone wants to play, but the safety of the public has to come first” Tony Gaffney & other Israel WINNER League Players open up about Coronavirus!

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The Israel Basketball Winner League will continue on this coming weekend while most competitions across the continent have decided to shut down due to the Coronavirus. Following this round of games, the league will then reconsider their position and see if the games will continue behind closed doors and without fans. The Euroleague, EuroCup, FIBA Basketball Champions League and Europe League have all suspended play as basketball courts around Europe will be silent for the upcoming weeks.

The Sports Rabbi spoke to a number of players plying their trade in the Holy Land about the decision to continue league play this coming Gameday 22 which will end the second round of games.

Dov Halickman Photography


Veteran big man Tony Gaffney of Nahariya spoke about the situation up in Israel’s north by the Lebanese border, “Things are quiet in Nahariya, no real sense of panic yet, but everyone certain aware and cautious; aware of the situation and it seems as though everyone is trying to do their part, everyone is properly concerned because nobody really knows where this is going, but have to stay safe and listen to health experts advising to wash hands and be disciplined in killing bacteria, and the risk in crowds, etc. Everyone wants to play, but the safety of the public has to come first and there has to be absolute commitment from everybody. Until we’re told that we aren’t to play (and hopefully it doesn’t come to that, but it’s understandable if it does), we will try to do the job that we know to do, even as strange as it will be to have no fans or family or anyone at the games.”

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John Petrucelli who is in his first season in Israel with Hapoel Beer Sheva had this to say, “I’m pretty torn. I obviously would love to play, especially if we are going to be practicing and preparing for Holon all week anyway. But on the other hand it’s so important to think about the health of the players, coaches and other staff who can potentially be exposed. Not everyone’s immune system is built the same and we know that the virus can effect individuals differently, so that’s the only scary part. But if the league is pushing to play this round they must have some confidence that everything will be ok.”

One player who wanted to remain anonymous told The Sports Rabbi, “I understand that we’re supposed to be entertainers, and that sports are a welcome distraction from whatever’s going on in the world, but at what point are we employees that deserve certain levels of protection like other industries that have a heavy social emphasis? Everyone has seen the steps that other countries and leagues have taken, and the writing seems to be on the wall that at some point we’ll need to at least press the pause button on this season. Why push to squeeze in a round of games? What’s the upside?”

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JP Tokoto who recently returned to the WINNER League to play with Nes Tziona after playing with Hapoel Eilat last year and San Pablo Burgos earlier this season also commented on the current situation, “I wouldn’t want to miss games I would rather play and also play in front of fans I’m not agreeing with the whole limit places to a certain amount of people. You still have people going out, shopping etc… If you aren’t going to shut down everything then don’t limit anything and don’t stop games. Listen we have to be conscious of our health and the health of others but at the same time we can have the games behind closed doors until the problem of the virus is figured out.”

Another player who wanted to remain anonymous added, “A bit concerning. We all love basketball and want to play. But I think we should take a step back and realize the severity of the matter. Leagues and institutions all over the world are shutting down their operations in order to stop the spread of the virus. From a sports perspective, hourly we are getting news of more players testing positive despite not showing symptoms. I’m sure the League has and will continue to do its due diligence but public heath has to be priority number one in this situation. Continuing to play certainly raises levels of concern.”

Dov Halickman Photography


Finally, Jordan Swing who is in his second year in the Holy Land and just moved to Maccabi Haifa also opined on the situation, “Still don’t know what’s going to happen but playing with no fans will be weird but definitely the safest thing to do. But I see all these other leagues postponing for a few weeks that might not be a bad idea.”

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