It was dark day for Israeli basketball and Israeli sports as a whole when Hapoel Tel Aviv decided that they would not play their crosstown rival Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Winner Cup semifinal and be handed a technical defeat due to the way the police treated their fans as they entered the Drive In Arena.
The Reds supporters were required to show identification at the door in a decision that was made by the authorities just a few hours before tipoff in order to ensure that fans who had been banned from entering the facility did not.
The police were on heightened alert after the soccer Derby had its own issues with Hapoel Tel Aviv fans and how they were kept in endless lines to enter the stadium. Some 100 fans or so were arrested a few days ago and released with the caveat that they could not attend any type of sporting event and the police wanted to ensure the fans safety by not admitting them should they try to enter the facility.
However, it seems that this crossed a red line for the fans and the decision was made by Hapoel management and supported by new owner Ofer Yannay which left Israeli basketball fans, the league as well as its partners, sponsors and rights holders out in the cold on a Thursday night in Tel Aviv.
Maccabi Tel Aviv came out as planned but unfortunately for them they had no rival to play and will now have to wait until Sunday when they tipoff against Hapoel Jerusalem for the Winner Cup crown.
While it’s more than admirable for wanting to keep the peace and making sure that the atmosphere and environment for the Derby would be one that is safe, the league, police and revenant authorities had all summer long to try and get their ducks in order. Everyone saw how the final series between Maccabi and Hapoel back in June had crossed plenty of red lines and there was plenty of talk about how the league, the Israeli Basketball Association and everyone else involved in the game of basketball would crack down.
Did that happen?
Of course not.
Nothing was done, Zero, Zippo, Nada.
Months passed and no meetings took place, no arrangements, no thought was put in. Nothing.
Sure, a week or so ago it was reported that former Hapoel Jerusalem CEO Guy Harel would head a committee together with the League Administration and the Israel Basketball Association. That was it.
As they say, that was a too little, too late.
The league, the police, the IBBA needed to have all of their ducks in order months ago so that if Maccabi and Hapoel would play, procedures would be in place so that holding a basketball game with under 3000 fans.
Those procedures needed to be publicized every day leading up to the game to make sure it would be CRYSTAL CLEAR what the fans were expected to do, how the seating arrangements and entrances would be managed in order for the supporters to have an enjoyable evening out with their families and children.
This is so basic to ask for, but yet so difficult for all of the parties to actually put in place and execute it.
There is plenty of blame to pass around without a doubt, but every party knows how to blame the other as we are experts at that. Everyone from the police, the league chairman, the minister of sports and culture know how to send out a statement, go on television, talk the talk but can’t for their lives walk the walk.
Hapoel put out a statement that sports belongs to the fans and plenty of others jumped on the bandwagon, but the clubs also have the responsibly for not allowing the violent and troublesome supporters to influence the direction of the club and rule the roost. Everyone seems afraid of cleaning out the problems and will allow it to fester and fester despite knowing deep down that they need to be extracted.
Some are blaming Maccabi including their own fans for not walking off the court before being awarded a technical victory and stand in solidarity with Hapoel and the abuse that their fans had been subjected to. Others have suggested that Hapoel Jerusalem refuse to play in the final against Maccabi and instead face Hapoel Tel Aviv in an exhibition game.
Let’s be honest, the yellow-and-blue had nothing to do with this entire escapade as they showed up and were ready to go when the clock hit 9pm. Their fans were in the stands singing to their hearts delight while the reds faithful were all outside of the Drive in Arena in protest. Unfortunately for Hapoel they are now going to be subject to a big fine while leaving the League with egg all over their face.
Once the game was called, Maccabi wanted to hold a practice and scrimmage for the fans that were already in the arena but some authority figures had other ideas and made sure to turn the lights off fast and furious in order to save face and put this brutally embarrassing episode that the league was experiencing in the rear view mirror as fast as possible.
While the kabosh was put on the practice the Maccabi fans were forced by the security forces to stay in place until the Hapoel fans would go on their merry way. The simple fact that the Derby has now turned into a war zone is absolutely shameful from every side of this equation.
Will Maccabi actually play Jerusalem on Sunday night for the Winner Cup final? Well, that is debatable by many and could we actually see Maccabi tipping off against Hapoel Tel Aviv instead with the final pushed off to some later date down the road?
As they say in sports, expert the unexpected because anything can happen in the world of sports.
But while that may be the case, the league needs to get their ducks in order before the regular season gets off and running next Friday.
Will something finally be done and a standard set that those involved will be able to properly run the league?
This shouldn’t be rocket science and can be solved with proper attention paid to the actual problem.
But that may be the hardest part of all because the question still remains wide open, do the parties actually want to tend to the issues at hand?