Maccabi relocates to Greece

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Maccabi Tel Aviv has been forced to move a Euroleague home game against Italy’s Virtus Bologna to Greece because of security fears over the war in Iraq, the Israeli basketball club’s chairman said on Monday. «We made every effort to retain our home advantage at Yad Eliahu Arena for Thursday’s game but we were unsuccessful,» Maccabi Chairman Shimon Mizrahi told Israel Radio. «We had no answer to the argument that the country’s population is still on heightened alert, and had to accept the fact that in the current circumstances, Bologna was not prepared to come to Israel.» Maccabi, three times European champions and one of the biggest and most influential clubs in European basketball, will now play host to the Italian team in Thessaloniki. Mizrahi said Maccabi had been allowed to choose an alternative venue and picked Thessaloniki. Unlike international soccer, which has been almost completely halted in Israel due to security fears, basketball clubs from Europe have continued to travel to the Jewish state on a regular basis over the last year and a half. Until Monday’s decision, the few European teams who had preferred to stay away were defaulted and fined. Last week, Strasbourg of France refused to travel to Israel to play against Hapoel Tel Aviv. Mizrahi said that the decision to relocate was on a match-by-match basis and he hoped that the next home game set for Tel Aviv in two weeks’ time would be played as scheduled at the 10,000-seat Yad Eliahu Arena. Maccabi, the perennial Israeli league champion which has failed to win the title only twice in the last 33 years, was last forced to play a home game on foreign soil during the Gulf War in 1991. A showcase event of European basketball, the Adriatic League Final Four, is set to be held in Tel Aviv from April 3 to 5. Mizrahi said that a final decision whether the games would go ahead would be made later this week. The competition is open to clubs from the states that made up the former Yugoslavia and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

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