Israeli soccer to resume play on May 30, without fans

Health Ministry, officials ink deal to renew season, with training starting next week, players home-quarantining between matches and club owners demanding government compensation

An Israeli Premier League match between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on February 17, 2020. (Flash90)
An Israeli Premier League match between Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on February 17, 2020. (Flash90)

After a lull of two and a half months, Israel’s soccer matches are set to resume on May 30 with training returning next Sunday, according to an agreement signed Wednesday between the Health Ministry and league officials.

But in a sign of lingering restrictions even as the virus appears to recede, fans will be banned from games and players’ movements (when not on the field of play) will be severely restricted.

The agreement still has to be ratified at a meeting of league officials Thursday.

According to the agreement, the country’s second-tier league will be renewed on June 1, two days after Israel’s Premier League.

All league players will be required to remain at home at all times except for training and matches throughout the season. If a team member or staff member is diagnosed with coronavirus, the entire team will enter a two-week quarantine.

It was not clear if opposing teams would also need to be quarantined.

Players will have their temperatures and oxygen levels checked before every training session and will be required to use their private vehicles to get to training sessions. Arrival to matches will be in buses with no more than 25 people.

Referees will not be required to stay at home between matches and will be able to continue their other activities.

The league may still be shut again if there is a fresh outbreak of the virus.

In this March 28, 2020 photo, a closed soccer field is seen during lockdown following government measures to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The Culture and Sports Ministry on March 13 canceled all sporting events in the country until further notice, which had joined other far-reaching closures due to the pandemic but are now gradually being rolled back as infection rates have waned.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev hailed the decision as “big news for sports and soccer lovers.”

However, the Finance Ministry has so far refused requests to compensate the team owners ahead of the 2020-2021 season for a total sum of NIS 100 million ($28.5 million) if the season is completed, and NIS 150 million ($42.7 million) if it isn’t.

Moshe Hogeg, owner of the Beitar Jerusalem club, said that without such aid “there won’t be soccer here next year. If there are no fans, compensation will be vital or else teams won’t be able to survive financially.”

Meanwhile in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders on Wednesday gave the Bundesliga the green light to restart without fans from mid-May.

Leagues across Europe are taking different approaches to the unprecedented crisis.

The French league announced last week it will not resume the season, with Paris Saint-Germain awarded the top-flight title.

The Netherlands abandoned its season a week earlier.

Britain’s Premier League, Europe’s richest league, aims to restart in June, but differences have emerged over plans to use neutral stadiums.

Players in Italy’s Serie A returned to training this week even though it wasn’t clear whether the league would be renewed, and in Spain, Barcelona say players underwent coronavirus tests on Wednesday as La Liga clubs began restricted training ahead of a proposed resumption of the season next month.

The Serbian, Croatian and Turkish leagues have also announced plans for matches to restart.

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