Maccabi Tel Aviv Players Serving in IDF Barred From Turkey Soccer Game

IDF says Maccabi players who currently serve as soldiers cannot travel to Istanbul for historic Europa League game due to security concerns.

The deepening diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey has now also issued a blow to Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer fans, after Israel prohibited Maccabi players currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces from participating in the upcoming match in Istanbul.

The Maccabi Tel Aviv Football Club was told Thursday that due to security concerns, several young players that are currently serving in various units in the IDF will not be able to fly with the rest of the team to participate in the Europa League game against Turkish club Besiktas in Istanbul, scheduled for next Thursday.

Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer - Nir Keidar
Nir Keidar

The Istanbul game marks a historic moment for Maccabi Tel Aviv, who reached the Europa League group stage for the first time.

Earlier Thursday, Turkey's sports minister assured Maccabi Tel Aviv of its safety ahead of next week's game.

Suat Kilic told a televised news conference Thursday that the match will be played in the "highest level of [Turkish] hospitality," next Thursday and Israeli players will "safely" return home.

"There are problems on various issues between Turkey and Israel but it is not a situation that could prevent this match," Kilic said, opposing calls from Israel to have the game to be played at a neutral venue. "The Israel team will play its game against Besiktas in comfort and return home."

Turkey took strict security measures during last year's European Volleyball League tournament and closed a game between Turkey and Israel to the public. A small group of protesters were stopped by police two blocks away from the venue as they voiced anger over Israel's May 31 raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

Before another volleyball match between Israel and Serbia during the tournament in July, protesters scuffled with police, pounding police shields with Palestinian flags.