Unlike Men’s Team, Israeli Women’s Basketball Team Put on Commercial Flight, Exposing Them to Coronavirus

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The Israeli team in a game against Montenegro.
The Israeli team in a game against Montenegro.Credit: Fiba.com

Members of the national women’s basketball team went into quarantine on Monday after it was discovered that a person with the coronavirus was on their commercial flight back from Crete a day earlier, sparking criticism of the basketball association, which recently sent the men's team on a private plane. 

The women's team flew home on Sunday after two EuroBasket tournament games Montenegro and Sweden. The women were tested before the trip and after each game and were quarantined during their stay in Crete, but the flight back had other, unrelated passengers on board.

“The flights were booked a month and a half ahead of time, they told me the place was the safest from the coronavirus and that anyone getting on board would have to have had a corona test first but this is what happened,” the team's coach, Eli Rabi, said. “You sit on the plane for three hours and breathe in each other’s germs. Luckily, nobody on the team feels unwell, but we were instructed to enter quarantine until Sunday. They had cut the quarantine period down to 12 days, but now it’s back to 14.”

The women had been participating in a preseason tournament since their return, having had no idea they were exposed to the coronavirus. The season begins on Monday and by then they will be out of quarantine but a few teams have asked the league to postpone the opener to allow the women a few days’ training time together.

Women basketballers have criticized Israel’s basketball association for sending the team on a commercial flight rather than a private jet as done for the men's team, which flew this week to Valencia. It turns out the passenger they were exposed to by flying commercially had been on a connecting flight from Athens to Tel Aviv.

“The moment we received a note to go into quarantine we were very annoyed. We were supposed to have been on a direct flight and there was a direct flight but we wound up flying via Athens as part of a connection flight,” one of the women on the team told Haaretz. “It’s unbelievable. We spent five hours on the ground in Athens. We tried to avoid exposure as far as possible, and stick with our bubble, but we knew from the start that would be problematic. It’s not a long flight to Sweden but a 40-minute flight to Crete and it’s as though we flew to the United States. It’s unreal that during the period of the pandemic we should be running around like this. In the end it hurts our work and or salaries. It shouldn’t be this way.”

“I’m so mad about this,” a person involved in Israeli basketball said. “Not only did they take a commercial flight rather than a private jet like the men, but they also had to get a connecting flight in Athens and that’s where an infected passenger boarded, when there was a direct flight that day from Heraklion. I hope they don’t shut the league down just with the association being such a cheapskate.”

The association said in response: “There are no flights to Valencia no matter how hard you look for one, and there was a very convenient one to Crete.”

Earlier, the association said of the women’s team being placed under quarantine: “At the time when the women’s team flew to Greece, the country was categorized as 'green' and there was no mandatory quarantine on the way back. The association received all necessary permits from the health and sports ministries. The players and crew had three or four corona tests and they were all negative. They all stayed together on the flight but unfortunately an infected person was on the plane. We are checking with the authorities about the option of shortening their quarantine period.”

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