US-based Olympic medalist said to flee Israel after catching COVID, breaking law

Ex-swimmer Markus Rogan, a performance psychology coach for Israel’s national soccer team, reportedly set to lose job after taking flight to LA, claiming to be negative for virus

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Austrian swimmer Markus Rogan smiles during a practice session at the Aquatics Center at Olympic Park ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics, July 26, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
Austrian swimmer Markus Rogan smiles during a practice session at the Aquatics Center at Olympic Park ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics, July 26, 2012, in London. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

A US-based former Olympic swimming medalist secretly escaped Israel last week after testing positive for COVID-19, breaking the law and resulting in his immediate dismissal from his post as performance psychology coach for the Jewish state’s national soccer team, Hebrew-language media reported Sunday.

Markus Rogan, 38, an Austrian national who won two silver medals in the 2004 Olympics and who today lives in Los Angeles, was hired by Israel’s soccer team in March 2019.

He tested positive for the coronavirus along with a player for the national squad after a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic on October 11 in Haifa.

“He lay down on the backseat on the bus back to Caesarea and looked worn out,” an unnamed official in the Israel Football Association (IFA) told the Ynet news site.

After Rogan received a positive test result on Monday afternoon last week, he was ordered to quarantine in his hotel room in Caesarea.

However, he reportedly told IFA officials that he has family in Israel and asked to stay with them during his quarantine. The officials agreed and ordered a special ambulance for the following day to transfer him to the relatives’ home, Ynet reported.

When the ambulance crew arrived at the hotel room on Tuesday, they couldn’t find him.

They alerted the national squad’s medical team, which was on a plane, waiting to take off for Slovakia to play against the local national team.

The team reportedly learned that while Rogan had been originally scheduled to return to his home in Los Angeles via Germany the following Thursday, he changed his plans as soon as he tested positive and booked a flight for Monday night without informing anyone from the IFA or the team, including Coach Willy Rottensteiner, a fellow Austrian national who had originally recommended Rogan for the post.

Rogan secretly left the hotel that night, violating government regulations that prohibit confirmed COVID-19 patients from breaking quarantine, and went to Ben Gurion Airport. He presented a negative coronavirus test from 72 hours earlier, rather than the more recent positive result, the report said.

The IFA and Rottensteiner have not been able to contact Rogan since Tuesday. The team informed the Health Ministry and international authorities that he was flying after testing positive, but by the time the information was handed over he had already landed in Germany and presumably boarded a flight to the US.

“We hope the matter has been communicated to the World Health Organization,” a staff member for the national team was quoted as saying.

When IFA chairman Oren Hasson was informed of the details, he told Rottensteiner: “It’s clear to you that Rogan won’t be able to work anymore for the Israeli team, right?”

The coach, who is scheduled to end his tenure in December, was expected to comment on the matter during a press conference Monday.

Rogan was also scheduled to leave at the end of the year. He has not commented on the matter.

Israel players watch the penalty shootout during the Euro 2020 playoff semi-final soccer match between Scotland and Israel at Hampden Park, Glasgow, on October 8, 2020. (Andy Buchanan/AFP)

After the story broke, media reports said Monday that information on those in quarantine would be immediately and continuously sent from the health care system to border authorities to prevent them from leaving.

The players for the national team reportedly only found out about Rogan’s departure through media reports.

“The person who is supposed to prepare us mentally has done something embarrassing,” an unnamed player told Ynet. “How does someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus have the audacity to go on two flights and be at airports? What if he has caused harm to someone?”

He will not continue working for the team, IFA officials were cited as saying. Since he was not under contract and was paid by the day, his employment can be terminated immediately.

“We have never seen such an idiot,” an unnamed IFA member was quoted as saying by the One website.

“He has done insane damage to the image of Israeli soccer,” another was quoted as saying by Ynet.

While some reports said the IFA was weighing a civil lawsuit against Rogan, others said the association would take no action beyond fining him and terminating his employment.

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