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Israeli women’s soccer team sees COVID outbreak after Euro 2021 qualifier

Players blame league for placing them on commercial flight from Denmark, exposing them to virus

Illustrative: Clalit Health care workers take test samples for coronavirus at a drive-through site in Lod, on October 16, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Clalit Health care workers take test samples for coronavirus at a drive-through site in Lod, on October 16, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Five members of the Israeli national women’s soccer team have either contracted the coronavirus or are suspected of carrying the pathogen, following a game against Denmark in the Euro 2021 qualifiers.

At least one player on the national team — goalie Fortuna Rubin — has been confirmed to have the virus, while four others were set to undergo a second test after the results came back “borderline positive,” the Israeli Football Association said.

While the source of the virus was not confirmed, the players complained that they were placed on a packed commercial plane after Wednesday’s game, exposing them to the virus, while the men’s team was transported by private jet.

“That’s what drives us crazy, because what’s the message they’re sending? That your health is less important,” said the team’s captain, Karin Sandel, according to the Kan public broadcaster. “Where they can cut costs, they cut. It doesn’t matter how many bad flight connections or five-hour waits in airports [it takes].”

The women’s team left on Sunday for a game in Georgia, without the five players infected or suspected to be infected with the virus. This time, said Sandel, they were placed on a private plane.

“It’s not out of the goodness of their hearts,” she said. “This time, there was a private flight only because there are no flights to Georgia. If they wouldn’t fly us out privately, we wouldn’t be able to get to the game and then there would have been a scandal.”

Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev, center, takes part in an exhibition game with the Israeli Women’s Soccer team at the Malcha Stadium in Jerusalem, June 30, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The players said they were being blamed by the soccer association for leaving their hotel rooms in Denmark for some air, though they were social-distancing outdoors while wearing masks.

The soccer association, in a statement, said it provides the “best conditions possible” for its women’s league, “before the coronavirus [pandemic] and certainly during it.”

“There is no indication they were infected from this flight or any other, and it bears remembering that the men’s league also had coronavirus infections spread between the players and staff,” it said. “The association took pains to put up the team members in separate rooms… with the aim of ensuring their health as much as is possible. Other soccer leagues and others also use commercial flights after coronavirus tests are conducted. This unnecessary demagoguery pains us, and we send wishes for good health to all, men and women.”

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