(photo credit: (Efrat Saar/courtesy))
"I would much prefer to be playing ball than on this computer playing poker," an exasperated Maccabiah softball athlete wrote in a message sent to The Jerusalem Post from her youth hostel lobby outside Tel Aviv late Tuesday afternoon.
Clearly, someone was listening to her plea.
After working feverishly on Wednesday to rectify the business license fiasco at the Baptist Village's Yarkon Sports Complex in Petah Tikva that had left the 400 softball participants in Israel for the 18th Jewish Olympics gameless, it was announced late Wednesday evening that a license had been granted by the Petah Tikva Municipality and that the softball schedule would resume on Thursday morning as initially planned.
The tournament had been put on hold on Tuesday after local police stormed on to the field and broke up play during the second inning of an Israel-Mexico game.
While a major PR disaster for the Maccabiah was somewhat remedied by the event coordinators' last-minute scrambling, the Games most certainly were guilty of dropping the ball and, even with the granting of the license, are now left with egg on the face... and a fallout of potentially appalling proportions.
Israel team manager Ami Baran executive director of the Israel Softball Association told the Post he spent most of Wednesday organizing the required paperwork which was connected to the safety measures.
"We worked all day to day trying to get the last piece of paper in to the municipality," he said. "The engineer for the Maccabiah organization came on Tuesday night and checked out the field and then on Wednesday, we managed to get it on a CD and the Petah Tikva Municipality business license divisional director gave the go-ahead.
"I am relieved we can get on with the games and the tournament is back on track. It all came down to a lot of sports at different venues and we fell into a crack that was either missed or misinterpreted as to what exactly had to be done."
However Baran blamed the municipality for it's heavy handed approach.
"We were upset with the way it was handled. It was a PR disaster. A lot of the softball people are big funders, especially in the Masters softball. It was something that probably could have been avoided, first by someone at the municipality with a little more consideration. Although they were probably right with the law, they dealt with the situation in the wrong way."
Baran said 12 games had been lost in the day and a half without play but the games will resume Thursday and a full schedule will be played.
The athletes in the competition had been furious at the lack of coordination between the Maccabiah organizers and the Petah Tikva municipality.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke at the opening ceremony imploring the world's top Jewish athletes to move to Israel, and the very next day the police storm a field to break up a softball game over some bureaucratic bull***t," exclaimed Israel team member Michael Hochman.
"How does that play well for anybody?"
Even more painful to hear, from an enraged foreign softball player who was one of hundreds to shell out thousands of dollars for the opportunity to represent their countries at the Maccabiah in the Jewish homeland:
"I will NOT be making aliya. After four years of training, this nonsense has made my decision very easy. It was easy for the Maccabiah to take our money, and now they have housed us an hour away, and much worse, they did not make sure to be well organized. What a shame. We are totally disgusted and many people1s plans have been ruined...This really hurts," said the player who did not want to give her name.
Indeed, the timing of the legal enforcement by the municipality - in the middle of an Israel-Mexico game during an event that is widely-viewed as the perfect opportunity to extol Israel's virtues to visitors from abroad rather than expose them to its murky administrative underbelly - seems peculiar at best, even suspicious.
However, those in charge of the decision maintained that there is no evil agenda at play and there was ample warning given that games would be halted if a business license wasn't1t secured.
"The Maccabiah and the Baptist Village were well aware of what had to be completed," explained Petah Tikva spokesperson Hezi Hakak.
"They just chose not take care of things in a timely matter."
Asked why this licensing issue never became an issue before at the Baptist Village, which has hosted a pair of previous Maccabiahs as well as 2007's professional Israel Baseball League, Hakak stated, "you cannot ask why we didn't enforce things properly in the past. There are very good and well-established reasons for requiring venues with a certain amount of people in attendance to have a business license to operate. This is not a new law and the blame for the games being canceled cannot be shifted to the municipality of Petah Tikva."
Regardless of what happened and who is to blame, fortunately the snafu has been corrected in time to accommodate the entire softball schedule.