ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Crowds of 1,000 to be allowed at soccer matches for first time since war erupted

Sports Ministry says opening of stadiums will begin gradually in line with IDF instructions; Minister Zohar says without spectators, games ‘worthless,’ hopes for ‘sense of normalcy’

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

The Israeli Premier League match between Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Haifa, without a crowd in attendance at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
The Israeli Premier League match between Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Haifa, without a crowd in attendance at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Fans will soon be allowed to return to stadiums to watch soccer games for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began, with up to 1,000 to be allowed at first, the Culture and Sport Ministry announced Monday.

Due to restrictions imposed by the Israel Defense Forces’ Home Front Command on crowds, fans have not been able to watch games at stadiums since the outbreak of war on October 7 with terror groups in Gaza firing thousands of rockets into Israel.

Following a decision by Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar and IDF Home Front Command chief Rafi Milo, there would be a gradual return of fans to stadiums “as soon as possible,” with increases in crowd sizes determined by assessments made by the Home Front Command, the ministry said.

A specific date was not given for the reintroduction of crowds. A game between Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Beersheba set for Monday night will go ahead without fans in attendance.

Last month, national league games resumed without crowds, after over a month’s break due to restrictions.

Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar said Monday: “Without an audience, the sporting experience is impaired and becomes worthless. It was important to work to return soccer fans to the fields, with a little sense of normalcy, even if momentarily, in this difficult time.”

Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar arrives at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zohar said he trusted fans to adhere to instructions from the military and to be positive representatives for Israel.

War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 200 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

After the war began, the UEFA halted all its matches set to take place in Israel, and the games were relocated to countries in Europe.

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