Coronavirus: Israeli teams await next step with ambiguity

With local basketball and soccer leagues sidelined by coronavirus, player and coaches share thoughts

EMPTY BASKETBALL ARENAS and soccer stadiums have become the new norm across Israel and the rest of the world in the face of coronavirus concerns, with no indication of when the games will resume. (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
EMPTY BASKETBALL ARENAS and soccer stadiums have become the new norm across Israel and the rest of the world in the face of coronavirus concerns, with no indication of when the games will resume.
The Israel Basketball Winner League shut down over the weekend as the final gameday of the second round of action was put on hold due to the coronavirus. The blue-and-white league joined the majority of leagues from around the world including the NBA, the Euroleague, EuroCup, FIBA Basketball Champions League and Europe League who have all suspended play as basketball courts around the globe have been silenced.
Over the next few days the league’s administration will determine what the next steps will be and if the entire 2019/20 campaign will end or will begin at a later date while it has already cancelled the campaign’s All-Star Game scheduled for the end of March.
In the meantime, the Leumit League, Israel’s second basketball division ended and according to the Israel Basketball Association the two top teams will not be promoted to the Winner League while the bottom two won’t be relegated to the Artzit League.
Over on the soccer side, the Israel Football Association is still hopeful to find a way to end its respective leagues while Israel’s Nations League game at Scotland for a potential place in the 2020 European Championships is still up in the air as UEFA deliberates its next steps as well.
Some local domestic teams have returned to training without physical contact while others are playing the waiting game to see what will be in the coming days.
Maccabi Tel Aviv FC midfielder Dor Peretz and forward Matan Hozez are currently in quarantine as they had been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, while Hapoel Tel Aviv BC captain Tomer Ginat is isolated as well for the same reason.
The Jerusalem Post spoke to a number of hoops players and coaches who have plied their trade in the Holy Land about the situation as it stands now around the country.
Veteran big man Tony Gaffney of Nahariya spoke about the situation up in Israel’s north by the Lebanese border.
“Things are still relatively calm here in Nahariya. People understand the magnitude of the situation, and tend to be following the guidelines set from the Ministry of Health. It appears as though people are being as responsible as possible and diligent with the fight against spreading the virus.
“As players, we’re somewhat in the dark about the current state of the league, and for now, that is ok. But for the 70-80 players that are thousands of miles from home and loved ones, I can only hope that we are given more concrete information about the status of the league in the coming days. It’s a scary and unfortunate time for everybody, but I think we must keep the faith in humanity, and work together to fight off this deadly virus.”
John Petrucelli, who is in his first season in Israel with Hapoel Beersheba also weighed in on the state of affairs.
“I’m pretty torn. I obviously would love to play. But on the other hand it’s so important to think about the health of the players, coaches and other staff who can potentially be exposed. Not everyone’s immune system is built the same and we know that the virus can effect individuals differently, so that’s the really scary part.”
One player, who wanted to remain anonymous, tried to put things in perspective from an athlete’s point of view.
“I understand that we’re supposed to be entertainers, and that sports are a welcome distraction from whatever’s going on in the world, but at what point are we employees that deserve certain levels of protection like other industries that have a heavy social emphasis?
“Everyone has seen the steps that other countries and leagues have taken, and the writing seemed to be on the wall that at some point we’ll need to at least press the pause button on this season. Why push to squeeze in a round of games? What would be the upside?”
Jordan Swing, who is in his second year in the Holy Land and just moved to Maccabi Haifa, also opined on the situation.
“Playing with no fans would have been weird. Once other leagues postponed, it wasn’t a bad idea for us to do so as well.”
Former Hapoel Jerusalem coach Simone Pianigiani spoke to the Post from Italy as well.
“It’s very important to follow the specialists and doctors who understand the issues at hand as it’s a very dangerous situation. I saw the Old City walls of Jerusalem lit up with the Italian Flag’s colors in support of my country and I was so grateful and so happy about this. I am so proud that we have a lot of friends in Jerusalem. I want to thank the people of Israel from the bottom of my heart for their support it means so much.”