Israel at war: Sports situation update

Oct 7, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Just as the entire country of Israel is struggling to manage the war that is unfolding with Hamas and Gaza, the sports community has not been immune to the effects of the situation at hand. All of the professional sports leagues, including soccer and basketball have been put on hold while many of the teams have allowed their foreign players and staff the opportunity to leave the country.

Former soccer player Lior Assulin was killed at the desert party by terrorists from Gaza. The 43-year old was missing for more than 24 hours until his death was confirmed as more than 50 Hamas terrorists opened fire on the party-goers. The striker began his career with Maccabi Herzliya back in 1997 and then went on to feature for Maccabi Petach Tikva, Bnei Sakhnin, Beitar Jerusalem and Bnei Yehuda. In 2007 he moved to Hapoel Tel Aviv and then played in Cyprus in 2008.

After returning to Israel, Assulin then went on to play Maccabi Petach Tikva once again as well as Hapoel Beer Sheva before moving to the country’s second division before ending his playing career in 2017.

The Israel Football Association is in discussions with UEFA in order to postpone the National Team’s upcoming Euro 2024 games against Switzerland which is scheduled for Thursday night at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv and at Kosovo to November. Also, the IFA is trying to postpone the Under-17 matches against Germany and Estonia. Should UEFA not give permission to push the games off they will most probably be held in Cyprus or in Greece as has been done in the past when there had been previous security situations in the country.

There were a number of Israeli players in action in Europe over the weekend as former National Team captain Bibras Natcho scored for his club team Partizan Belgrade and broke down crying in the arms of teammates. Raz Shlomo who plays for Leuven in Belgium scored as well as tears streamed down his face following his goal.

“How can one celebrate a goal on this day,” Natcho said following the game. “When I saw all of those pictures earlier in the day, it was juts too much. My teammates saw many videos on social media and they asked about my family and those types of things. It was a shock to everyone and don’t know what will be and what will happen. There isn’t much else to day. It’s hard to find the right words on days like this.”

Israeli gymnast Artem Dolgopyat who captured a gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, won gold again in the floor exercise at the World Championships held in Antwerp and held up an Israeli flag with a pair of black ribbons on it due to the war being waged.

Leumit League soccer player Ben Binyamin was at the desert party that terrorists opened fire on as he suffered a seriously injured foot which was layer amputated, “I was in a group of 40 people in a bunker and the terrorists threw grenades at us. I saw so many horrible things, bodies upon bodies in this bunker including body parts. It’s hard for me to digest what we went through and what I’m going through personally. It’s tough to end my career this way but there are more important things in life.”

Former Israel National Team coach Shlomo Sharf’s granddaughter who was at the same party is also unaccounted for.

Menashe Zalka who is the captain of Hapoel Hadera was called up to the reserves and immediacy departed to help his nation.

Celtic fans in Scotland cheered on Hamas’s cause and waved flags in their support which led to Nir Bitton who played a decade for the club and now features for Maccabi Tel Aviv to post on Instagram, “Shame on you!!! Yes free Gaza from Hamas not from Israel!!! Supporting terror organization who’s proudly celebrating the slaughtering of families is absolutely crazy!! Embarrassing”.

Football clubs Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Beer Sheva, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa have all allowed their import players to depart along with the coaches and professional staff which included yellow-and-blue head coach Robbie Keane and reds bench boss Michael Valkanis.

“There are moments in life that cannot be controlled,” Valkanis said. Today, we were supposed to play at home, in front of our fans after a great victory over Beitar Jerusalem. What was supposed to be a celebration turned into a wake-up call by sirens warning of the attack that Israel experienced.”

“My heart is with all the people in Israel, sending support to those who have lost their loved ones and my thoughts are with the people and their family members I met who embraced me from the first moment and especially to my family, Hapoel Tel Aviv,” Valkanis added.

“It is sad that in 2023 we are still talking about human lives being lost due to wars and terrorist attacks. I hope that this crisis will stop soon and that the people will continue with their daily lives. We will be together very soon,” concluded the Hapoel Tel Aviv coach.

Maccabi CEO Ben Mansford and his family have also departed for England while the club’s technical director Dominic Price has also done the same.

Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club’s foreigners have flown to Greece. In addition to the Reds, players from Maccabi Ramat Gan and Nes Ziona have also left for Athens as well as some of their professional staff.

Both Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv Basketball Clubs had their continental clashes postponed at Milano and Vilnius respectively.

Hapoel Beer Sheva/Dimona have moved their players down to Eilat where they will stay for the time being while the basketball league has offered assistance in arranging flights out of Israel for the balance of the foreign players in the country.

Former Maccabi Tel Aviv star Scottie Wilbekin took to X (formerly Twitter) and posted, “My prayers are with Israel right now”.

Israel’s lone NBA player Deni Avdija took to Instagram and posted a number of images in support of Israel as well.

Enes Kanter Freedom who played in the NBA between 2011-2022 also came out with a strong statement of support, “Horrific and heartbreaking scenes from Israel. Dead people being stripped and paraded about like trophies on trucks, elderly women being driven into Gaza as hostages and the 5,000 rockets raining upon innocent civilians in Israel. UNACCEPTABLE!!! As a Muslim, I strongly condemn the current attacks against #Israel. I express my full solidarity with the victims, their families and loved ones.”

The Israeli Tennis Association canceled a tournament that was slated to take place this coming week as well.

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