Sinai Says: EuroBasket 2017 potential stepping stone for a better future for Israeli hoops

Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu Arena to host Group Phase between August 31 and September 5, 2017, with six teams, including Israel, to battle for four places in the knockout rounds.

Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu (photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/BSL)
Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu
(photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/BSL)
Israel has hosted international sporting events with increased regularity over recent years, but Saturday’s announcement in Munich, Germany was still welcomed with surprise.
After all, being selected as a co-host of EuroBasket 2017 was truly unprecedented.
The European Under-21 Championship in 2013 and the European Short Course Swimming Championships earlier this month are just two of the recent events to be held in the country. Nevertheless, Israel has never hosted a European Championships of the magnitude of the EuroBasket.
Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu Arena will host a Group Phase group between August 31 and September 5, 2017, with six teams, including Israel, to battle for four places in the knockout rounds.
FIBA made the announcement in a ceremony in Munich on Saturday afternoon, with Finland, Romania and Turkey also being named as hosts.
For the first time in the history of the competition, EuroBasket 2015 was hosted by multiple countries and the FIBA Europe Board opted to follow the same path for the 2017 edition of Europe’s premier basketball competition, a decision which was crucial to Israel’s hopes.
Turkey will host a Group Phase group, as well as the Final Phase, with games to take place at Abdi Ipekci Arena and Sinan Erdem Arena in Istanbul.
Finland last hosted a EuroBasket in 1967. Like Israel, Romania will also be hosting the event for the first time.
The man heading the blue-and-white bid was Israel Basketball Association chairman Amiram Halevy, who registered the landmark accomplishment despite only being elected to his current position last year.
“I was surprised by the decision. I expected, hoped and worked hard for this, but it was certainly far from a certain thing,” Halevy told The Jerusalem Post. “The fact is that we didn’t manage to do so for many decades so I was certainly pleasantly surprised.”
The FIBA Europe Board, numbering 22 delegates on Saturday, was the body which decided the identity of the countries that will host the event, and Halevy said that the hard work behind the scenes ultimately made the difference.
“I don’t know exactly what happened in the voting room, but it ultimately came down to interpersonal communication,” explained Halevy.
“We began working at the European Championships in France when we had time to talk with the different FIBA representatives. Through all these conversations we reached a situation in which the decision was matter-of-factly and not political.
“There was a concern that politics or security issues could hurt our bid, but we never mentioned one word regarding security and that worked excellently.”
As hosts, Israel will qualify automatically for the championships, securing its place in a 13th consecutive EuroBasket.
The blue-and-white reached the Round of 16 in EuroBasket 2015 in France and will be aiming to go at least one step further next time.
“This is really exciting. A landmark for Israeli sports,” said Israel guard Gal Mekel. “We want to build on what we began last year and hopefully these championships will be a dream for every player and fan of Israel.” Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi can’t wait for the championships to begin. “It will be a dream to play in front of our fans in the European Championships,” said Casspi. “Everyone involved deserves a lot of credit.”
Israel coach Erez Edelstein has more than a year to prepare the team for the championships. “I’m happy to be part of this history,” said Edelstein. “We will be able to give the young generation of players a chance to gather international experience without having the pressure of trying to qualify for the European Championships. Ultimately, our goal is to reach the summer of 2017 in the best possible position.”
Halevy credited the head of the IBA’s professional department, former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon, for harnessing his contacts to boost Israel’s bid.
“We also bid to host the previous championships but failed pretty miserably,” said Halevy. “We learned our lesson and went about our bid in a much better way, even though there was no guarantee we would succeed. We had an entire team working on this, including myself the CEO and the head of the professional department Pini Gershon.
“We tried to use everyone we know, including Israeli coaches who worked in Europe and have contacts with heads of associations. I’ve only been in this job for a year-and-a-half and I’m happy that I managed to create mutual trust with people in FIBA.
“We have excellent relationships with some of the people in FIBA and they really helped us, while others got in our way. That is how things work in these situations. Fortunately we had enough voters.
“Pini knows a lot of people,” explained Halevy. “Many of the heads of the associations in FIBA are former players and they know Pini. Having a known figure in the basketball world on our team certainly helped. He certainly played a key role in recruiting people.”
Halevy knows the hard work is only beginning, but he believes it will be worthwhile and that EuroBasket 2017 will prove to be a turning point in Israeli basketball history.
“After celebrating for a few moments now we need to start working,” said Halevy. “We see this as a national project and clearly the government and the different ministries will play an important role.
“This will give Israeli basketball a big push,” added Halevy. “I’m happy that children from across the country will get to see players that until now they have only been able to see on TV. This will also finally be a chance for the Israel national team to play high level official internationals at home. There is no doubt that this will create a lot of buzz around the sport and will allow us to continue and nurture it.”
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