The war in Lebanon did more damage than one can expect. It was not only to lives, homes, and businesses. Israel’s representative sports teams also suffered greatly during and after the war, including not being allowed to host international matches in Israel, foreign players fleeing, and general hostile treatment.
One of the most principal concepts in sports is the ability to host important matches at home and play in front of the local crowd. As soon as the war broke out between Israel and Hizballah in Lebanon, Israel’s home field advantage was taken away: Israel’s national teams were barred from hosting their games in Israel. This includes the National Basketball team which had to host its European Championship qualifying games in Bulgaria and the National Soccer team hosting their Euro 2008 matches in Holland.
Many in Israel, including Zvi Sherf, the National Basketball coach, and Itche Menahem, Chairman of the Soccer Association, have said that the international governing bodies of both basketball and soccer are deliberately preventing Israel from hosting the matches because of political reasons. “There have been three weeks of quiet, and the brutal decision not allowing play in Israel has been forgotten. This decision was made to be cruel to Israel,” Sherf said before leaving for Bulgaria where Israel will “host” Macedonia in hope of qualifying to the European Championships.
The Israeli club teams also suffered from the ban. Soccer champions Maccabi Haifa, along with Hapoel Tel Aviv, Beitar Jerusalem, and Bnei Yehuda, all had to host their European home matches in empty stadiums in various cities in Europe. Only Hapoel Tel Aviv managed to advance to the next stage in the UEFA Cup tournament. All attempts by the Israeli sports authorities and the political leadership to lift the ban have been unsuccessful.
Another example related to the war is the postponement of an advertising campaign that was agreed upon between the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and the English soccer club Arsenal for advertising and promotion of Israel in their stadium and future visits of the team to Israel. The campaign was postponed because of the war and because Emirates Airlines of Dubai, the chief financiers of the new Emirates Stadium in London, was not thrilled with it.
In another incident, head coach of Andorra’s national soccer team told one of Israel’s players last week that “Israel is a country of murderers. We will break your legs.” Maccabi Haifa also received uncooperative behavior from their hosts in Liverpool cutting their practice short, a filthy locker room and general uncooperative behavior.