With a cloud surrounding Israeli sports due to the coronavirus pandemic, Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev held a virtual press conference to discuss the situation at hand. As both the soccer and basketball leagues are suspended along with all of the Olympic sports there is a push to try and press the reset button due to the economic factors affecting the various disciplines. However, there is still a dissenting opinion from the Ministry of Health.
“There is a lot of pressure and talk about how to end the professional leagues and that is understandable,” began Regev. “Who’s the champion? Who will be relegated? Who will be promoted and who will play in Europe? Most leagues around the continent have not come to a conclusion.”
“There is also a tremendous amount of economic importance in this regard. Both UEFA and FIBA have declared that we should try our best to make these decisions on the field of play and we would like to hold a tournament with two weeks of training beforehand. We will have to have all parties in agreement but I do believe that freezing the leagues is problematic. We will work with the Ministry of Health to hold a tournament, if that is what is decided by the leagues.”
A tournament will be able to be a financial boon for the clubs at a this time when there is economic uncertainty due to the COVID-19. “The tournament will inject funds into the clubs due to television rights and the TOTO Lottery,” said Regev.
“Tests will have to be taken for all involved in the competition and if there is a need to isolate beyond two weeks then they will. This will be in effect for all of the players, club staff, and broadcasters. Everyone will need to be a part of the same training camp and adhere to Ministry of Health guidelines. The games will be held without fans. But I want to emphasize this will be up to the leagues. They may decide that there will be no tournament, no teams promoted it relegated and perhaps even no league next year. But then the entire industry will collapse.”
The Director General of the Ministry Yossi Sharabi added, “There is more desire that the soccer league will hold a tournament than basketball and there is a budgetary factor at stake. There are a few other alternatives as basketball is potentially looking to begin league play in July with the Winner Cup competition ending this season before heading right into next season.”
As for training, Regev explained the stages as to how that process will unfold, “The first stage will be in group activities of up to 10 people for competitive sports. There is will distance between the players and it will include exercises such as walking and running. After that phase, there will be a return to training with groups of ten being divided up on a soccer field of basketball court. The next step will be to return to the gym which will operate with a limited number of participants.”
“The soccer league must return to action by August or the start of September or else there will be a total financial collapse. There are two more additional steps that will be introduced in August but this plan as a whole is flexible and tailored for the reality that we now live in and can be adapted as per the government’s decisions. One thing is clear, as we return the economy to gradually, we are obligated to do the same for sports and culture.”
Regev explained that the plan would be presented to the government in order to obtain approval, “The strategy is geared in gradual stages just like what is being done with the economy. The entire world and the country are in the process of dealing with the virus. There has been huge damages done to culture and sports as they have been completely suspended. This plan has been formulated to gradually restore cultural and sports activities.”
“Every Shekel that the ministry invests in sports and culture creates a return that is seven times that amount and the industry generates 60 million Shekels per year. Right now the entire industry is completely shut down.”
However, Dr. Itamar Grotto, the Health Ministry deputy director general disagreed with the optimistic forecast, “I have stated that competitive sports won’t return to action for at least six months due to the current situation. While most of the plan is sensible, there is still the issue that a mask must be worn and there needs to be a distance of two meters between each person.”
“There are goals that we have for the months ahead including the possibility of extending the 500 meter limit and sports as well, but my position remains that the return of sports such as soccer and basketball where these is physical contact are at least a half a year ahead.”