Cash-strapped Holon a reminder of what we love about sports

Sinai Says: Despite facing a financial meltdown, the team is winning with a seven-player rotation versus what are supposedly superior sides.

On the one hand, Hapoel Holon’s story this season has been quite inspiring.
Against all odds, Holon has managed to succeed in the BSL.
Despite facing a financial meltdown, the team is winning with a seven-player rotation versus what are supposedly superior sides.
Holon was left with no choice but to release star players in recent weeks, as it could no longer afford to pay their salaries. But coach Danny Franco has got his team playing far better than the sum of its parts – and its current threegame winning streak ensured it finished the second round of BSL action in a respectable sixth position in the standings.
On the other hand, Holon’s story is actually rather depressing.
If one of the oldest clubs in the league – with one of the strongest fan bases in the country – cannot survive, what does the future of Israeli basketball hold? Less than a month after winning an historic league championship in May 2008, Miki Dorsman, who had owned the club since 2002 – and had also coached it to the title – announced that he was leaving, as he could not garner any financial support.
With Holon mayor Moti Sasson reluctant to spend city funds on the basketball team – and guarantees of donations from the likes of Arkadi Gaydamak turning out to be no more than empty promises – it seemed that Holon may have played its last game.
However, not for the first time, the club would rise from ruin.
Franco was brought in to coach the team, and he guided it to a dramatic State Cup triumph and a place in the BSL’s quarterfinal playoffs.
Nevertheless, financial insecurity meant that Holon could not meet Franco’s reasonable requests to stay on board for the 2009/2010 campaign, and the team just barely maintained its BSL status for another season – winning a fifth and decisive game against Ironi Nahariya in the relegation playoffs.
Franco was brought back ahead of this season, and built a balanced roster with a meager budget.
However, it quickly became apparent that the club was in deep trouble, paying the price for risks taken in the off-season by its new management, which inherited the side from Dorsman.
“It is no secret that we began the season with an unbalanced budget,” Holon chairman Hagay Shabtai said last Thursday, in a hastily organized press conference.
“I was not in charge at the time, but now we are doing all we can to ensure that Holon doesn’t collapse and that its many fans will continue to enjoy it in the future.”
Shabtai promised that the club would be around for years to come, and revealed that following the release of Americans Robert Hite and Eric Campbell, Holon is now negotiating with its Israeli players regarding a salary cut.
Shabtai is also hoping to raise money from supporters.
“We will approach our fans asking them to add NIS 500 to the price they paid for their season tickets to help balance out our budget,” he said.
“We will not be getting any money from the likes of Dorsman or Guma Aguiar. The team is in our hands and we all have to make an effort to make sure it finishes the season properly and begins next season as well.”
Holon has proven over the last few weeks that a team can succeed in the BSL with only two reliable Americans – in the shape of Rich Melzer and Kasib Powell – and inspirational Israeli leadership, from such players as Moran Rot, Amit Ben-David and Nir Cohen.
The victories over Hapoel Jerusalem at Malha Arena last week – and against the in-form Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Saturday – were a triumph of will over adversity, but Franco knows that the current situation is unsustainable.

“It is very difficult for us to play in this state,” Franco said after the victory over Rishon. “I cannot walk in the street without being stopped and congratulated, but people need to understand that there are no miracles here, just hard work. We are squeezing all we can out of this team, and even though everyone is in a euphoric mood at the moment, we know that it will be difficult to continue like this.
“Someone will eventually have to step up to help this club exist.”
The accomplishments of the underdogs from Holon in recent weeks are a reminder of what we love about sports. However, the fact that such a club faces extinction because it can’t manage to raise NIS 700,000 to cover its expenses until the end of the season is an example of all that is rotten in the Israeli sporting world.
The story of Hapoel Holon this season is certainly both inspiring and depressing. Unfortunately, as seems to happen all too often, the latter sadly prevails.