Frantic activity by various diplomatic and high-ranking government officials bore fruit yesterday when Cyprus gave a green light for Israeli soccer clubs to host their UEFA home games in Nicosia.
The news came at lunch time when Israel's ambassador in Cyprus, Michael Elyigal, called the foreign ministry to say the Cypriot government had decided not to bar Israeli clubs from playing their home games in Nicosia.
An announcement from UEFA earlier on Wednesday said that the security situation in Israel meant the decision taken last season that the country was too dangerous to host soccer matches would remain in effect, and Israel would host its opponents in the coming Champions League and UEFA Cup matches in Cyprus.
The Cypriot government decided to review their consent to allow Israeli clubs to play in their country following the bomb attack on Gaza this week which left 15 civilians dead, including 11 children, dead and more than 100 wounded.
Sports Minister Matan Vilnai was instrumental in persuading the Cypriots not to deny Israel the opportunity, but their concerns were over the cost of providing extra security and policing the matches. This will be covered by the ministry and by money from the Israel Sports Betting Board. The Sports Ministry said yesterday that the matter was "in the national interest."
Michalis Papapetrou, a spokesman for the Cyprus government yesterday said, however, that the agreement to allow games to go ahead in his country was in fact only for Maccabi Haifa's coming second-round qualifying game against Belshina Bobruisk of Belarus, which will be played at the impressive GSP stadium in Nicosia on July 31. Each subsequent match will be reviewed individually and the government will give approval only after discussing the issues.
Local journalists in Cyprus yesterday said their government's apparent reticence was to appease local public opinion after the Gaza attack, and this was a form of protest by the Cypriots.
The local reporters said that as a result of yesterday's announcements there had been cancelations by Israeli holiday makers who were planning trips to the island. While this may not have been a factor in the final decision, the fact that many soccer fans making the short trip to the island would boost the local tourist trade was also a factor in allowing the matches to proceed - not to mention the disapproval of UEFA, which had been led to believe that the issue had been settled.
The matter of Hapoel Tel Aviv's UEFA Cup match against KS Partizani of Albania is also the source of some doubt. The home leg on August 15 was scheduled for Nicosia, but UEFA had told Hapoel that it might have to find another venue, as the GSP Stadium would be in use by local club Apoel Nicosia, who are also hosting a match in the competition on the same date.
The Tel Aviv club is still hopeful, however, that UEFA will allow them to put the match back by a day so they can use the Nicosia venue after all.
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