Wednesday's match at Hapoel still in doubt as fearful Greeks risk forfeiting game.
By JEREMY LAST
This week's crucial Eurochallenge game between Hapoel Jerusalem and Olympia Larissa was still in doubt on Monday, even after world basketball's governing body ruled that the Greek side will forfeit the game if it refuses to turn up at Jerusalem's Malha Arena on Wednesday.
Larissa had written to FIBA last week requesting that the game be moved to a neutral venue out of concern for the players' safety due to the ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
However, on Monday FIBA told Larissa it did not accept that the team's concerns were valid and it must play the game in the Israeli capital as planned.
"We have communicated to the Greek and Israeli federations and the clubs saying that, after we conducted our security advisories and checked with other bodies such as Euroleague, we have told Olympia Larissa they have to travel to Israel to play the game," a FIBA Europe press officer told The Jerusalem Post.
"Our position is that Jerusalem is safe. We have received guarantees from Hapoel Jerusalem and the [Israeli basketball] federation concerning the security and this is enough for us.
"We are hopeful the club [Larissa] will understand. It's up to the club, of course, but if they don't go [to Israel] they will forfeit the game and may be fined."
Hapoel is currently top of Group E in the Eurochallenge, Europe's third-tier club competition, but the situation is extremely tight with all four teams in the group having won two and lost two so far.
A technical win would give a boost to the Israeli team's bid to make it to the next round, and by Monday evening there were conflicting reports over whether Larissa was willing to travel.
Initially Jerusalem put out a statement from chairman Danny Klein saying that the team is happy that Fiba decided the game should be played.
"Hapoel Jerusalem will do everything it can to ensure the security of the Larissa team during the time they are in Israel," Klein said.
Hapoel spokeswoman Tamar Goldman later said team manager Gidi Dudi had spoken to his counterpart at Larissa and was told the team, at this point, intends to come to Israel.
"As far as we know they are supposed to come," Goldman told the Post, before adding, "I think they have a problem with their flight."
"We talked to them and we tried to calm them down last week when we started speaking to them about it and told them everything is OK in Israel, especially in Jerusalem," she said.
However an Olympia Larissa spokesman was quoted by various Israeli media outlets as saying the team is too scared to travel to Israel due to the war in the South and would rather forfeit the game then make the trip.
Meanwhile, Maccabi Tel Aviv's Greek opponent, Olympiacos, apparently shares none of Larissa's concerns and is set to play its Euroleague match at the Nokia Arena on Thursday as planned.
On Monday, Maccabi power forward Marcus Fizer continued on his road to recovery with a medical examination and looks likely to make his first official appearance for the club this season against the Greeks.
Fizer, who was injured in a game at Olympiacos a year ago, appeared ready to go as he spoke to the press at a training facility in Ramat Gan.
"We respect every ball club we play against but it doesn't mean we are going to lie down," he said about the visiting side, which will include former Maccabi players Nikola Vujcic and Yotam Halperin.
One future Maccabi Tel Aviv player is likely to compete in the Eurochallenge this week.
Guy Pnini, who has signed a contract to play at Maccabi next season, is a Hapoel Jerusalem player but spent two months on loan at Serbian side FMP Zeleznik.
Last week, he left the club and on Monday joined Eurochallenge strugglers Keravnos Nicosia of Cyprus until the end of the season.
Nicosia is currently bottom of Group B in the Eurochallenge, having won only one of its first four games.
It visits French team SAOS Hyeres on Tuesday evening.
Despite its European troubles, Keravnos is currently in second place in the Cypriot league with an 8-2 record.
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