The Last Word: Israeli sportsmen displaying courage under fire

The local sports world has been unable to escape the devastating impact of rocket attacks from Gaza.

jeremy last new 298.88 (photo credit: Jeremy Last)
jeremy last new 298.88
(photo credit: Jeremy Last)
It is in times like these that sports often falls from the forefront of the nation's consciousness while Israelis focus on the more urgent life-and-death matters at hand. However, the local sports world has unfortunately been unable to escape the devastating impact caused by the barrage of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. In place of the regular sports news stories of transfer rumors and the like which usually dominate the local headlines in December and January, fans this week heard far more about how the soccer and basketball teams of the South vowed to continue training in the area despite the danger posed by the rockets and the numerous disruptions of siren alerts. This changed on Monday, after a Grad-type rocket landed and exploded in the penalty box of third-division side Hapoel Ashkelon's stadium just a minute or so before the players were about to take the field for a regular training session. By Tuesday, teams such as Ashdod SC of the Premier League and National League promotion-hopeful Hapoel Beersheba had transferred their entire playing staff to Ramat Gan where they held training sessions while listening for news from back home. While teams in the top two divisions were not scheduled to play this weekend, as the leagues are on their winter break, the Israel Football Association has cancelled all the weekend games in the lower divisions and the Israel Basketball Association postponed this weekend's State Cup games. The decisions to move the training sessions and cancel the games were clearly necessary and, therefore, one can not question the compliance of the players and coaches. But the determination, resilience and courage of the staff at teams like Ashkelon and Beersheba, both in soccer and basketball, deserves respect and admiration. Most people from the South are finding it difficult to lead normal lives and the example set by the country's sportsmen can only serve to inspire the nation's population. The teams are getting on with things as best they can, representing the 'never give up' attitude which Israelis are famous for. A special mention goes to the foreign players who appear to have no problem sticking together with their teammates as war rages in the area close to Gaza. Hapoel Beersheba's Brazilian striker Leandro Simioni is just one example of a foreigner who has put on a brave face. And although Ironi Ashkelon basketball player Steve Burtt turned up in Israel after his winter holiday a day late after saying he was concerned about the situation, he arrived nonetheless and said he had put his faith in the club, which is currently training in Rishon Lezion. One matter of concern during times of conflict is, as usual, the view from the outside world. And the reaction of the Olympia Larissa basketball team must be condemned in the strongest terms. The Greek side has said it is not willing to travel to Jerusalem for next week for Wednesday's Eurochallenge game against Hapoel Jerusalem, claiming that the safety of its players is the club's top priority. The announcement illustrates the worrying attitude foreigners have to Israel, and is especially ironic considering that Israel's Bnei Hasharon traveled to Athens to play Panellinios in the Eurocup while riots raged on the streets of the city. There are no rockets landing in Jerusalem and it does not seem very likely that Hamas and the other terrorist groups will be able to reach the capital, especially not by next week. It would be better for teams like Larissa to show greater respect to Israel and our country's teams for their courageous attitude in this trying time.