Israeli Soccer Chief 'Doesn't Know if and When League Will Resume' Amid Coronavirus Fears

Euro 2020 may be postponed to the middle of next season or to next summer, or even be canceled entirely, Oren Hasson says

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A football game between Hapoel Tel-Aviv and Ashdod, December 2019.
A football game between Hapoel Tel-Aviv and Ashdod, December 2019.Credit: Nir Keidar
Irad Tzafrir

Oren Hasson, chairman of the Israel Football Association, discussed at length on Sunday the crisis for Israeli soccer resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. “Everyone understands that we’re in the midst of a mega-crisis on a global scale, whose economic and sports-related consequences are unknown,” said Hasson at a press conference conducted via internet. “Until Thursday the situation was unclear, at the moment almost all the leagues in Europe have been suspended and the question is when they will be resumed,” he said.

On Tuesday there will be a UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) video conference with Hasson’s participation, in which representatives of the various countries will vote and make decisions, including on whether to hold the playoff games for qualifying for Euro 2020, and whether to hold the tournament itself, which was supposed to begin on June 12. Hasson explained that there is no decision about postponing the team’s playoff game against Scotland, which was scheduled for March 26: “I believe it’s quite probable that the date of the game will change, but we don’t know yet to when.

Chairman of the Israel Football Association Oren Hasson.Credit: Israel Football Association

“The longer the postponement of the leagues, the more difficult it will be to close the gap,” added Hasson. “We’ll be getting into different weather conditions and the summer recess, and going from one season to the next. At this point nobody knows what will happen, but the Euro tournament can’t be delayed by a month. It may be postponed to the middle of next season or to next summer, and it may even be canceled entirely.

“We don’t know if and when we’ll return,” he continued. “It’s a serious epidemic but we all believe and hope that sooner or later we’ll reconvene. We’re part of FIFA [the international football association] and UEFA, and in an ordinary season the leagues have to end by late May so that all the teams can register for the European tournaments, I don’t think that UEFA will decide to end the leagues now. If it’s decided to postpone to late June or July, that would enable all the leagues to complete the regular season and maybe to begin a next, shortened season.

“We’d like to try to end the season, and to expand to holding games twice a week ... as fast as possible,” Sasson said. “There are economic consequences, but we want to finish the season. UEFA wants all the leagues to finish in a sportsmanlike way and that’s how it will be decided who will participate in the European tournaments.”

Hasson was asked about the players’ fears about their salaries being frozen. “Every team will decide for itself. All of Israeli and world soccer will suffer but in order not to become hysterical, we have to understand the scope of the damage and the implications,” he said. “There’s no uniform policy, the owners are losing huge sums, we’re in contact with the finance and sports ministries to examine the damage and to receive government assistance.”

Another issue is the contract of Andy Herzog, head coach of the national soccer team, which runs out at the end of March. Its extension was conditioned on the team’s going to the Euro 2020. “We have a contract with him and want him to train the team if there’s a playoff game, but if the game takes place a long time from now we’ll have to decide about extending his contract,” said Hasson.

The Israeli soccer chairman also noted the letter from FIFA that allows teams to refuse to release players for international games, with the decision being left to the team and the player.

He recounted the dramatic events of the weekend: the cancellation of the leagues like a ship going down – first the lower leagues, then the youth and children’s leagues and finally the professional leagues.

“We wanted to maintain the routine as much as possible, for children to go outside and play soccer as long as the health restrictions allowed,” Hasson said. “We saw how the decisions kept changing, and wanted to maintain the routine even with 100 people in the stands, and then we heard about parents who were afraid to send their children. We were attentive to the clubs and all the decisions were made gradually.”

Hasson, who is in quarantine like many top executives of the Israel Football Association, after returning from a FA conference abroad, explained his personal situation. “I’m in quarantine but I’m working almost around the clock. ... I look and feel great, hope that within two days I can go back to work as usual. There are challenges and we’re learning how to do new things.”

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