The Health Ministry recently announced a relaxation of some of Israel’s coronavirus restrictions, but the changes may not come in time to rescue the country’s amateur leagues, particularly sports dominated by English speakers.
The lockdown had immediate implications for some leagues, like the Israel Basketball League, where Yeshiva League Pass was set to meet B-Woods in the championship game last month, and the AFI tackle football league, which was in the semifinal stage.
“Even before any restrictions were announced, to be on the safe side we decided not to allow any fans and play in front of empty stands,” IBL chief Dov Rabinowitz told Haaretz. “However, as it looked like things were getting more serious, we postponed. And sure enough, it turned out that by Saturday night March 13, when the final was scheduled, all sports had been canceled.”
He said that while the league was still holding out hope to play the championship game eventually, with members of each team already abroad, the two finalists may end up being declared co-champions.
The disruption, meanwhile, has long-term implications for leagues that rely on yeshiva students coming for the year from abroad.
With all the uncertainty, yeshiva registration is low. For an association like AFI – American Football in Israel – that could mean going down from dozens of squads to just a handful, even if contact sports are allowed.
That isn’t a given. When the restrictions were eased for sports, basketball and soccer were specifically banned. American football clearly wouldn’t be cleared before basketball and soccer.
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In the near term, the Israeli associations are trying to reschedule in the hope that in the fall things will return to some sense of normalcy. For example, the Heritage Cup in the United States, in which Israel Lacrosse takes part, was postponed until October.
Other events were pushed back even further. The Israel Baseball Association was set to send its baseball squad to the United States in July for a series of seven pre-Olympic games. With the Olympics delayed by a year, those games will also have to wait a year.
In the meantime, all the local sports associations can do is keep online contact with their players in an effort to keep morale up and as many people in shape for whenever organized sports can resume.