Authorities livid after soccer fans, players mass at stadium to celebrate win

Hapoel Tel Aviv could be fined after its players cooperate with illegal rally; concern high ahead of Wednesday match between top 2 teams

Hundreds of fans of soccer club Hapoel Tel Aviv celebrating a win outside Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on June 2, 2020, without adhering to social distancing rules. (Screenshot: Twitter)
Hundreds of fans of soccer club Hapoel Tel Aviv celebrating a win outside Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv on June 2, 2020, without adhering to social distancing rules. (Screenshot: Twitter)

The Health Ministry and the governing body of the country’s soccer leagues reacted angrily Wednesday after hundreds of fans gathered outside a Tel Aviv stadium Tuesday night, without a trace of social distancing, to celebrate their team’s win.

Players from Hapoel Tel Aviv went along with the crowd’s enthusiasm after their 3-0 win over longtime Premier League rivals Beitar Jerusalem, cheering along with the fans who were separated from them by a fence at one of Bloomfield Stadium’s gates.

Israeli soccer resumed play on Saturday but with heavy restrictions, including that no fans are allowed into the stadium to enforce social distancing to battle the coronavirus.

But hundreds of Hapoel fans gathered just outside the stadium Tuesday night, and erupted in celebration after the match, reportedly complicating a planned discussion on rules for the remainder of the season in the country’s top soccer league.

“We want to be here, why can we go to the beach but not here?” a fan told the Kan public broadcaster.

A Health Ministry source told the Sport1 website that the incident would be considered in a debate on whether to allow fans back in the stands.

The Israeli Professional Football Leagues (IPFL), the body in charge of the soccer leagues, intends to summon Hapoel’s representative for a hearing due to the players’ cooperation with the illegal gathering, and could fine the club, Army Radio reported.

The body will also ask police to increase their presence around stadiums to prevent similar scenes in the future.

A central concern is that the scenes could be repeated during Wednesday night’s tense match between the country’s two top-ranked teams, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, also at Bloomfield Stadium.

It was in the same stadium that two fans were confirmed in February as coronavirus carriers, leading to dozens being quarantined and eventually to all soccer matches being called off for three months as much of the country shut down.

Israeli soccer returns after months of coronavirus hiatus, with a Premier League match between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Beersheba at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on May 30, 2020 (Flash90)

At the time, attendance was up 25 percent over the previous season, and the league was poised to set a record of over two million fans in a season. Defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv is currently leading the league.

The break between games amounted to a lull of 90 days. The previous longest break in a season due to a crisis was 49 days in 1990-91 due to the Gulf War, the Ynet news site reported. In 1976-77, play was halted for 49 days while the national team was abroad in Asia.

The Premier League teams began full squad practice sessions on May 10 as virus restrictions eased, allowing players to train together without maintaining two-meter social distancing gaps between them, and with all of the team together on the field at the same time.

Players will live in home quarantine with their families throughout the season. Any player to test positive for coronavirus will force teammates who came into contact with him over the previous 14 days to go into isolation.

Other countries, including South Korea and Germany, have resumed professional soccer games in empty stadiums.

A worker sets up the corner flag at the Teddy stadium in Jerusalem, ahead of the reopening of the soccer session on Saturday, on May 27, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While Israel’s virus outbreak has slowed, allowing the country to ease lockdown restrictions, there has been a renewed outbreak over the past week, with the number of daily new cases consistently back over the 100 mark after weeks in which it didn’t pass 50.

Top Health Ministry officials blamed the rising infections on the public’s weakening adherence to social-distancing guidelines.

On Saturday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the public of the need to continue to maintain social distancing and hygiene practices, and said lockdown measures could yet be reimposed if infections continue to rise.

The sharp rise has mainly been at schools, most of which were allowed to reopen earlier this month. The Health Ministry is considering once again having some institutions go back to remote learning.

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