ANALYSIS- What is the future of Israeli sports teams due to COVID-19 in European play & in the Holy Land?

Mar 6, 2020 | The Pulpit

There is a lot of talk about what is going to happen to both the European competitions as well as the domestic leagues with many countries restricting movement due to the Coronavirus. Israel is instructing anyone that has returned from a number of countries to go into self quarantine and that includes Italy, Spain, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and others.

How will Spanish team Baskonia come to Israel and play Maccabi Tel Aviv next week in Euroleague action? There is currently discussions that the Yellow & Blue’s home game will be played in Serbia, Greece or Cyprus. But it remains to be seen if the Israeli government’s regulations let alone those of the three countries listed will not change within days. Hapoel Jerusalem is supposed to fly to Athens on Tuesday but that also may be placed in doubt as Coronavirus cases continue to increase across Greece.

Dov Halickman Photography

As European countries continue to suffer from COVID-19, restrictions will be tightened and it will become more and more difficult for teams to move throughout the continent. Italy will have sporting events played with no fans until April while China stopped both their basketball and soccer leagues for a number of months and they may start up again in April. As the virus spreads to other countries, this could mean the end of the competitions earlier rather than later.

There have already been a number of games that have been played “behind closed doors” and without fans including Milan’s home game against Real Madrid and Valencia’s home tilt with Milan this past week. In fact Bologna’s EuroCup clash with Darüşşafaka from Turkey was played in Serbia yesterday as well.

Dov Halickman Photography

Maccabi Tel Aviv still have six regular season Euroleague games until the quarterfinals which are supposed to be played in April with the Final Four in Cologne, Germany scheduled to be played near the end of May. Three of the regular season games are at home and 3 on the road which as we’ve already seen will use some logistical issues for all 18 teams in the league.

Other than Baskonia, the Yellow & Blue will host Zenit St. Petersburg from Russia and Zalgiris from Lithuania and will need to travel to play CSKA in Moscow, Panathinaikos in Greece and ASVEL in France. If the situation remains as is, Maccabi could play Zenit and Zalgiris in Tel Aviv and make the trips to Moscow and Greece, but France would be off limits.

On the domestic side, the Israeli government issued a decree that limited gatherings including sporting events to 5,000 fans, but that has already gone by the way side as the Ministry of Health have adjusted the regulations for both soccer and basketball.

Dov Halickman Photography

Hapoel Jerusalem will host Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday night at the Jerusalem Arena and 9,000 fans have been approved to attend the contest. This came after the Health Ministry accepted a plan to have a clear separation between the sections that will be put into place by the host team.

Another issue is limits placed on anyone entering Israel which includes foreigners or Israelis as they will not be able to attend any gathering of more than 100 people for 14 days after their return. Theoretically, when Maccabi returns to Israel from their game in Belgrade they shouldn’t even be allowed to play against Hapoel Jerusalem on Sunday night. Of course any fan that accompanied the team to Serbia can’t attend the Israeli Classico as well. How this will be governed is yet to be seen but the police have arrested some people who have not remained in self quarantine.

In addition, after pushing off this week’s soccer games by a week, the Health Ministry has also approved the Israel Soccer League’s section separation plan to allow up to 20,000 fans at soccer games. This will begin with the coming week’s State Cup quarterfinal matchup at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa between Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beer Sheva and continue into next weekend’s slate of games.

Earlier in the week it was learned that someone who was infected with the Coronavirus was at the Tel Aviv Derby in February and the government panicked stating that everyone in section 8, the section that the person was in needed to go into self quarantine. That meant that a few thousand people needed to isolate, however, later in the day the Health Ministry narrowed the area to just 77 people that needed to self quarantine. Naturally, any of these new regulations can quickly be altered by the government should the virus continue to spread.

We haven’t even scratched the surface of the Israeli sports scene as many Olympic sports and athletes are under the same regulations and many tournaments and competitions around the world have been either postponed or cancelled. This also plays havoc in the preparations for the 2020 Summer Games in Japan, should they even take place.

With a new reality in place across the country, Israeli sports will need to adjust what has been “normal” up until now. After some confusion this week due to the updated regulations handed down by the Health Ministry, one can only hope that the situation will become clearer as the next few days and few weeks go by. The hope is that life can continue as it always has both in regular day to day activities and in the realm of sports, but as we have seen in other countries that have faced the affects of the Coronavirus that may be in serious doubt.

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