Comment: Is Jerusalem the sports capital of Israel?

Is it not time to find a plot of land in Jerusalem and build a world class training center?

Jerusalem 88 (photo credit:)
Jerusalem 88
(photo credit: )
With all the hoopla centered around Betar Jerusalem's upcoming Champions League qualifier clash against Wisla Krakow later this month, people around the world might think that Jerusalem, Israel's capital city, is also Israel's sports capital. How much further from the truth could they really be. Betar, coming off a season when it won both the league title and State Cup, is again likely to be favorite to win the same titles once again. But let's take a look at where they ply their trade, the training grounds in Bayit Vagan and Teddy Stadium. The Bayit Vagan training ground, located right next to Shaare Tzedek Hospital, is a substandard facility with a couple of pitches, ones that are not always kept up to what we would say are European standards. Put the shabby buildings into the mix and you have a laughing stock of a grounds. Not only that, but Betar's owner Arkadi Gaydamak pays through the nose to lease these fields every year. Is it not time to find a plot of land in Jerusalem and build a world class training center? This would not only benefit the professional team but also be of use for Betar's youth and junior teams, giving them a real place to call home and imbue a sense of top-level professionalism in the youth from day one. Teddy Stadium, built almost 20 years ago, has an excellent pitch but not much more than that. The restrooms and concession stands leave something to be desired and the seats could use a major refurbishment. An empty space occupies the southern end of the stadium where one can just imagine another stand of seats. And of course, let's not forget about the blackout disaster that struck the stadium last season during the Betar vs Maccabi Haifa match. Though the stadium is undergoing a slight renovation on the roof, much more has to be done to bring this facility up to top-flight European standards. In order for Betar to be considered a club worthy of playing in the top European competitions, it not only means playing attractive and competitive football at the highest level, but that its facilities must be taken to that next level as well. Turning over to the basketball arena, Jerusalem is in worse shape by miles. Hapoel Jerusalem plays basketball in what is essentially a glorified gymnasium, with just over 2,000 seats and no air conditioning. Just as Teddy Stadium lacks proper restroom and concession stands so does the Malha Arena. After Hapoel won the ULEB Cup in 2004 there was much talk about the building of a 10,000 seat, world class arena right by Teddy Stadium. A sign was posted on the site in 2005 claiming that construction would begin in December of that year, but almost three years later not one shovel has been lifted to begin the process. Hapoel and the city of Jerusalem had been talking about attracting Euroleague games including the finals, world class events and the like. But as time went on, the project shrank from a 10,000 seat facility to 5,000 seats and now it seems it has shrunk into oblivion. How sad. Hapoel Jerusalem, a team that languished in the standings last season and did not make the Israeli Final Four, does not have much to look forward to this year. To date, the team has not made the signings it needs to regain its number two status in the league which it held for many years and once again looks again to tread water around mid table. With that, coupled with Gaydamak bailing out his support for the club and even considering throwing it behind league champion Hapoel Holon, it could be a very long season for the Jerusalemites. In order for Jerusalem to not only be the capital of Israel but also its sports capital, a very serious look at these two facilities must be taken in order for both the city's two top teams to make it to the heights of European sports landscape. If this is not done Jerusalem sports will always play second fiddle to those played in Tel Aviv. joshhalickman@yahoo.com