War Delays Start of Israeli Soccer Season

The league opts not to hold every match in the north, where all is quiet.

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Maccabi Tel Aviv players back in the days when soccer had the all clear.Credit: Nir Keidar

The first round of Israeli soccer’s Premier League will not take place this weekend, even though the Home Front Command has allowed large gatherings outside an 80-kilometer perimeter from Gaza.

The league has decided not to hold a partial round of matches or change some of the venues.

Early Thursday, club owners battled it out; some still hoped for a deal with the military, noting precedents when games were allowed to go on in safe parts of the country. Even if soccer could not be played in Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Rishon Letzion and Tel Aviv, the first round should take place on schedule, they argued.

There would be no problem in the game between Hapoel Ra’anana and Hapoel Petah Tikva in Netanya north of the Tel Aviv area, for example. The same could be said for the matches between Maccabi Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin and between Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Acre.

Similarly, games scheduled for the south or center of the country could have been held in the north. Some team executives noted the Israel Football Association’s pressure on Belgium to play an upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier here. They said a postponement of the Premier League would mean the Israeli national team would have to host the Euro game in Cyprus.

“So Hamas said not to play soccer and we comply? That’s pathetic,” one club owner said. “Why take such an extreme position?”

Asher Alon, owner of Hapoel Ra’anana and a league executive, says the games should go on as scheduled. “There’s no question — soccer can be played on some of the pitches,” he said. “There’s no reason not to switch some home games and hold at least a partial round.”

The owner of Bnei Yehuda, Moshe Damayo, says the decision should rest with the army. “I believe we should proceed according to the directives of the Home Front Command,” he said. “If they say not to play, we shouldn’t. That’s my opinion, but the league’s directorate should decide.”

Others have criticized the decision to celebrate the season’s opening at the new Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, even if Maccabi Haifa’s game is postponed.

“The event will be attended by 1,000 people,” said an official of a Premier League team. “Isn’t that a large gathering? If we’re not playing in Haifa, the opening of the season should not be celebrated.”