Sachs in the City: It's good to be back

It is a true tribute to the Israeli athletes and their spirit that so much has been achieved on the various sporting fields in recent years.

frankie sachs 88 (photo credit: )
frankie sachs 88
(photo credit: )
It's been nearly a decade since my name first appeared in these pages and, I must admit, it's good to be back. As I began thinking about the various topics I would like to address in the Israeli sports world over the coming months, I also decided to take an inventory on the progress sports that has been made over that time. As recently as the turn of the century, the following concepts were unthinkable: An Israeli team in the UEFA Champions League; Israeli tennis players winning Grand Slam titles or challenging for the Davis Cup; an Israeli winning an Olympic gold medal; Israeli track & field success at the highest level; an Israeli in the NBA. Yet they have all been - or are about to be - achieved. In this brief pocket of time between experiencing the despair of Israel all-but missing out on the FIFA World Cup in South Africa and definitely failing to qualify for the FIBA World Championships in Turkey with defeats last week, and the hope that comes with Maccabi Haifa starting its UEFA Champions League campaign on Tuesday and Israel's Davis Cup tennis squad taking on Spain in a semifinals tie in Murcia over the weekend, it is important to look at the forest and not just the trees. And that forest is a whole lot greener today than ever before. In a country with a relatively small population, with a lack of funding available to sports and leisure events, it is a true tribute to the athletes and their spirit that so much has been achieved on the various sporting fields in recent years. Men and women like Alex Averbukh, Yossi Benayoun, Eyal Berkovic, David Blatt, Shay Doron, Yoni Erlich, Gal Fridman, Keren Liebowitz, Shahar Pe'er, Andy Ram, Haim Revivo, Dudi Sela, Derrick Sharp and Arik Ze'evi - to name a few - have been the sources of countless moments of inspiration and pride for so many people and there will be just as many moments in the years to come, many from boys and girls that whose names we have yet to learn. With that in mind, it with great excitement that I look to our sporting future. And that starts with this week's two major events - Maccabi Haifa's Champions League return and Israel's Davis Cup tie in Spain. The reasons for the massive anticipation constrast starkly. For Haifa, though this is not the first time an Israeli side has advanced to Europe's elite club competition, it is the first time we can focus solely on the games. The Greens' first Champions League campaign in 2002 was played in Cyprus due to the security situation at the time, while Maccabi Tel Aviv's lone Champions League appearance was somewhat marred by the controversy surrounding its opening game, a September 2004 clash against the same Bayern Munich on the first night of Rosh Hashana. The Tel Aviv club's somewhat half-hearted efforts to move the date of the game were met with staunch opposition by European soccer's governing body, UEFA, and the game was ultimately played in a half empty stadium. Incidentally, Munich won 1-0. On the other hand, the success of captain Eyal Ran's Davis Cup squad is simply unprecedented. It wasn't too long ago that the team - with some of the same players - was toiling away in Europe/Africa Group 2, so the meteoric rise to not only reach the World Group, but to knock off legitimate contenders like Sweden and Russia en route to the upcoming clash with Spain is a dream-come-true from tennis fans. It is especially significant considering that even in Israeli tennis's glory days with Amos Mansdorf, Shahar Perkiss and Gilad Bloom playing and Shlomo Glickstein the captain, the team had only won a single World Group tie - against Czechoslovakia in 1987. The news that world No. 3 Rafael Nadal will not play gives Israel some hope, though it is still somewhat of a David vs Goliath tie. Of course the irony is that the Friday-through-Sunday tie falls out… on Rosh Hashana. Maybe after all this time, Israeli sports haven't progressed quite as much as I had thought. The writer is a former Jerusalem Post Sports Editor currently living in Kansas City.