allows armed Shin Bet agents to accompany Israeli football team
By Ha'aretz Sports Staff
July 30, 2002
Maccabi Haifa soccer club finally arrived in Cyprus last night
ahead of tomorrow's Champions League qualifying match after resolving
a dispute over security guards that had left them stranded at Haifa
The problem was over the Cypriot authorities' agreement to allow
Shin Bet operatives to carry weapons as they escort the team.
The team had arrived early at the airport for their short flight
to the nearby island, but already through the night club officials
had been informed that the Cypriots had not agreed to give permission
for the guards to carry weapons and that the club should not fly.
Lengthy discussions between high-ranking officials on both sides,
including Sports Minister Matan Vilnai and Foreign Minister Shimon
Peres then ensued and permission was eventually granted before the
team set off for Larnaca yesterday evening and eventually arrived
in Nicosia, the venue for tomorrow night's match against Belshina
Bobruisk of Belarus in the home leg of the second qualifying round
for the European Champions League.
Until they could breathe a sigh of relief, the Haifa outfit had
several tense hours during which it appeared as if the entire trip
would have to be called off and the club would have to forfeit its
hopes of European success - for the second time in as many seasons.
Haifa beat FC Haka of Finland last year in the Champions League
second qualifying round but was then disqualified for fielding a
banned player and missed out on a third qualifying round tie with
After several hours' wait, the team was dispatched by bus to a
local hotel before returning to the airport at 5:30 P.M. They took
off an hour later.
"Today has been a tough day for us but actually instead of
resting at our hotel in Nicosia, we rested in Haifa. In the end
we made it here," club administrative manager Itamar Chizik
said upon arrival in Cyprus.
Coach Yitzhak Shum was philosophical about the delay. "In
Israel a matter of this kind is almost a day-to-day occurrence,
we simply have to learn how to cope with these things," he
UEFA ordered Haifa to host the home leg of the tie in Cyprus because
of security concerns about playing the match in Israel. The match
will be played at Nicosia's modern GSP Stadium.
"I am not privy to the details of the agreement between Israel
and Cyprus, but it is not important. The result is that Maccabi
Haifa will play," Israel Football Association Chairman Gavri
He suggested Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Peres had
"We managed to mobilize the prime minister and the foreign
minister. Even the Cypriot president (Glafcos Clerides) was involved,"
Israeli and Cypriot government officials did not immediately comment.
Vilnai regretted the incident, which he said could have resulted
in the team being ousted from the tournament. But he said: "I
am pleased to say we managed to resolve the matter. All the relevant
agencies are satisfied that the players are well protected and it
was good to see that everybody on our side and in Cyprus worked
together for a successful conclusion."
UEFA has ordered all Israeli clubs to play their "home"
matches in European competitions in Cyprus because of security concerns
caused by the heightened cycle of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict over the last 22 months.
Tel Aviv clubs to look elsewhere
The news of yestrday's delay and the ap;parent retisence by Cyprus
to continue to host Israeli clubs has led both Hapoel and Maccabi
Tel Aviv to look firther afield for a suitable country to host their
respective teams in the UEFAcup.
The Cypriots had said that tomorrow's match would be a one-off
and that there is no green light for future games to take place
on the island.
Both tel Aviv clubs are therefore examining a possibility of using
Bulgaria as their home base for future matches.
"There is a problem with Cyprus despite our plans to play
there it is quite likely that we will have to find another venue,"Hapoel
boss Moshe Teomim said yesterday.
"There is no dount that the security problems which Haifa
faced yesterday will also apply to us when we play Partizani of
Albania in the UEFACup," Teomim explained.