The coronavirus impacted the Israeli sports scene in various ways across the country this week, including the postponement of the Jerusalem Marathon, critical European basketball clashes as well as State Cup quarterfinal soccer games, while some executives are dealing with self-quarantine.
On Thursday, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion announced that events in Israeli capital, including the Jerusalem Marathon, would be cancelled or postponed due to coronavirus.
The marathon, which was scheduled for March 20, will now take place in October, after the Jewish holidays. Lion emphasized the fact that the marathon was postponed and not cancelled.
On Wednesday night, Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Peristeri 91-78 in Game 1 of their best-of-three last-16 Champions League playoff series. However, the big story was the fact that the game was played behind closed doors and with no fans at Jerusalem’s Pais Arena due to the Israeli government’s coronavirus regulations of not allowing more than 5,000 people to attend a gathering. Close to 9,000 fans were expected to descend of the arena with a rally scheduled to take place a couple of hours before tip-off, but that was all scratched as the club decided not to allow any fans into the facility.
The atmosphere was strange, players could be heard talking to each other on the court while the coaches screaming on the sidelines were hard to miss. The ball echoed each time it was bounced on the court a few club employees and family members cheered on from the stands in the empty arena.
“That was weird to play without our home crowd,” said Jerusalem coach Oded Katash. “I was worried about that because we need our energy and the players feed off of our fans. who are very important for the players especially in a critical game. I told the players at the half that the fact that there are no fans can’t let it affect them.”
James Feldeine also chimed in about having to play in front of an empty arena.
“It was tough playing without our fans as they give us a lot of energy. Warming up was hard also, but we knew that they were watching us on TV and that helped us along the way.”
Jerusalem big man TaShawn Thomas shared his thoughts on the situation.
“It definitely felt different because whenever you play in a big game you want to have the crowd behind you. When you play a big game, you imagine the crowd going crazy but it felt like a scrimmage. I’m glad that we played together as a team and I made sure that the bench cheered each other on as they took the place of the fans in the game.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” said Jerusalem’s new recruit Emanuel Terry. “The support was out there. There was love out there on the court.”
The second game of the series is slated to take place next Wednesday in Athens and Jerusalem is scheduled to fly out of Ben-Gurion Airport on Tuesday. Greece isn’t on the government’s list of countries that will require quarantine, but that can change at any moment.
Meanwhile, in Euroleague action, Maccabi Tel Aviv slipped by first-place Anadolu Efes 77-75 at Yad Eliyahu to improve its record to 19-8 and clinch a playoff berth.
The yellow-and-blue jumped out to a big lead thanks to stellar play by Yovel Zoosman, who recently returned from injury, but the visitors came back on the strength of Vasilije Micic and Krunoslav Simon.
However, late-game heroics by Scottie Wilbekin and Othello Hunter helped Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad to the two-point win.
With over 10,000 season ticket holders and a 5,000 spectator limit, Maccabi’s management tried every effort up until the last second to allow all of their fans to enter the arena. Due to their discussions with government officials they delayed putting out an announcement and eventually let 3,300 fans into the arena in Tel Aviv most of whom came to the game hoping that they would be allowed in, which was eventually the case.
“It was a little bit weird,” said Maccabi’s star guard Scottie Wilbekin. “But we just tried to focus on doing our regular routine and get ready to play a game against a tough opponent.”
Sfairopoulos also spoke about the situation.
“It was very difficult to handle before the game with the coronavirus issue and you can understand it was unusual for all of us. We didn’t know if we would have our fans by our side, but I think we handled the situation really well. When you cross the line and come to the court, you need to forget what’s happening outside the four lines and that’s what we did.”
It is yet to be determined if Baskonia from Spain, which is Maccabi’s next opponent at home, will be allowed into the country.
Following the game, the Israeli Health Ministry reiterated that the Maccabi Tel Aviv players should have been in quarantine since they had only returned from Spain less than 14 days ago and per the new regulations they should have been in isolation and not been allowed to play the game.
In fact, the Efes players also should have been in quarantine once they entered the country since they had been in Germany for a Euroleague game on February 27.
On the soccer field, the Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Beersheba Israel State Cup quarterfinal game that was supposed to take place at Sammy Ofer Stadium on Wednesday was postponed less than two hours before the starting time while Hapoel Tel Aviv beat Hapoel Ra’anana 2-1 in 120 minutes in front of 3,000 fans at Bloomfield Stadium.
Emmanuel Boateng scored in the 46th minute for the Reds, but an Idan Shemesh second-half penalty sent the game into an extra session that saw Stefan Spirovski find the winner.
Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Omri Altman spoke about the situation.
“It would be a catastrophe to play without fans and it would just lose everybody’s interest. A solution will have to be found, perhaps they will postpone the games. This is a serious issue and something must be done. The health ministry is handling situation correctly in order to keep people safe, but I really don’t want to have to play without fans.”
In other State Cup play, Bnei Yehuda downed Hapoel Haifa 2-0 as Elisha Levy’s team punched its ticket to the competition’s semifinal against the same club that had sent it to the Premier League’s relegation playoffs.
Finally, the Israel national team’s technical director Willi Ruttensteiner is in self-quarantine, having returned to Israel less than a week ago from France after taking in the Lyon and Juventus Champions League match.
The national team’s head coach, Andi Herzog, is currently in Austria after having attended the Nations League draw and when he returns to Israel he will also need to go into self-quarantine as per the government’s regulations.
With Israel’s massively important Nations League game at Scotland for a spot in this summer’s European Championship coming up at the end of March, it remains to be seen how the blue-and-white will prepare for the clash or even if it will take place as scheduled.