Trainer takes the temperature of a Maccabi Haifa soccer club player. April 23, 2020. (Facebook/Maccabi Haifa) (Facebook/Maccabi Haifa)
Maccabi Haifa soccer team

As coronavirus infection rate slows, health ministry gives green light to Israel’s professional soccer teams to start training again. 

By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel

Israeli sports fans got a dose of good news Thursday when the Ministry of Health gave the green light for soccer teams to resume practicing.

Soccer is Israel’s number one sport, and with social distancing regulations still in effect there’s no date yet for the resumption of play. After six weeks of isolation, teams resumed training under health guidelines that included checking players for coronavirus symptoms and support staff wearing masks and gloves.

In Jerusalem, members of Beitar Yerushalayim returned to their practice field near Shaare Zedek hospital and were divided into three groups to lower chances of infection. In one drill, the players played foot tennis that quickly turned into a tough competition with the losers doing push-ups.

“I’m very happy to see the players. It’s a great joy,” Beitar’s coach Ronnie Levy said. “Sports, and soccer in particular, are of great importance to Israeli society. People are thirsty to see soccer return, and I hope the league will resume soon.”

As the pandemic spread in Israel, the government shut down the education system, shopping malls and all places of entertainment. Israel’s 14-team top level soccer league halted play on March 13.

In the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, the players were not only divided into two teams that came at different times, they were also given two sets of training gear for practices on different days. According the health instructions, the change rooms and showers in the team’s complex were kept closed to lower the infection hazard and players had to wash their own gear at home.

With a population of only 24,000 and located less than a mile from the Lebanese border, the feisty Kiryat Shmona team won the national championship in 2012, the only team outside of the big three cities of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa to ever do so. When league play resumes, Kiryat Shmona will be looking to move up from their current 12th place in the standings.

Several of the players and many of the fans from neighboring towns and villages are Muslims, and with Thursday also marking the start of Ramadan, the team wished its Muslim players and fans “a happy holiday and a joyous fast.”

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