The fact that FC Bayern Munich’s basketball players are playing in Belgrade twice within a week is not news worth mentioning, especially since the Serbian capital is represented by two teams in the Euroleague: Red Star and Partisan. This Thursday, however, unlike a week ago, we will not be going to the huge 20,000-seater Stark Arena, where Munich lost 68:74 to Red Star. This time Bayern have to compete seven kilometers further east in the Aleksandar Nikolic Hall.
And it’s not city rival Partisan who is also playing in the large arena, but Maccabi Tel Aviv. It is the Israelis’ first home game abroad after the game against Madrid was postponed a week ago. The fact that the Nikolic Hall is smaller and only offers space for 8,000 spectators is of no importance, because the match against the Israeli champions will take place without an audience.
Since the Hamas attack on October 7th, sports in Israel have been out of the question. Nevertheless, the Israeli professional clubs are trying to continue taking part in the various international competitions: like the basketball players from Maccabi Tel Aviv in the European premier class – albeit at an alternative venue. After an emergency meeting, the Euroleague chose Belgrade as the Israelis’ new home: “Belgrade was one of the options,” explains Maccabi’s media director Roey Gladstone. This turned out to be the best after Cyprus was also initially discussed.
In the Fiba-Europe Cup in Cyprus the costs were too high – the Israel teams were removed from the competition
The Mediterranean island was one of the candidates; the European association Fiba also wanted to move there with its competitions such as the Europe Cup, the fourth highest international competition. The three affected Israeli clubs Bnei Herzliya, Ironi Ness Ziona and Hapoel Galil Elion were originally scheduled to play their home games in Nicosia, as were the women of Ramat Hasharon in the Fiba Women’s Eurocup. However, according to the clubs concerned, the security requirements in Cyprus and Fiba could not be met.
According to reports, the games would have cost up to $30,000 due to extensive security measures, and the teams and their entourage were only supposed to arrive one day before the games and leave again the day after. This was not possible given several games in November alone, which is why the Israeli clubs were removed from the competition – to their annoyance.
In a joint statement, the three clubs criticized Fiba’s behavior as not being sufficiently “understanding and integrative”. In the Basketball Champions League, the third highest European competition, which is also organized by Fiba, the Israeli representative Hapoel Holon has found a temporary home in Riga/Latvia; Hapoel Tel Aviv, which has only played away so far, and Hapoel Jerusalem will also play in Belgrade.
The two highest competitions, Euroleague and Eurocup, have nothing to do with Fiba; they are organized economically under the umbrella of Euroleague Basketball – and have found a different solution. “The Serbian teams and authorities helped us a lot and suggested helping us with facilities and the hall,” explains Maccabi media director Gladstone. “And because the Nikolic Hall was already a Euroleague arena last season, everything needed was easy to set up.” Maccabi does not want to comment on security measures or costs: “We don’t yet know how long this situation will exist,” says Gladstone, “there are a lot of uncertainties, at the end of the process we may be able to say something about it.”
But Maccabi doesn’t just play in Belgrade, the foreign professionals, i.e. the majority of the team as well as the coaching and support staff, live in Serbia’s capital until further notice, reports Roy Jankelowitz. The journalist works for an Israeli online sports portal and has also been accompanying Maccabi’s basketball players for years. But the Israelis continue to live at home: “They arrive three or four days before the game and then return home afterwards.” Like Yankelowitz, he is flying back home to Jerusalem.
Bayern are going to Belgrade to win – which will probably be difficult given the class of their opponents
Israeli professional athletes are used to high levels of protective measures, says the 35-year-old, but these are particularly extensive at the moment: 700 security guards were deployed at Maccabi’s Euroleague guest game in Valencia. Professional athletes in his homeland are also exempt from military service, says Jankelowitz; he knows of only one professional, footballer Menashe Zalka, who voluntarily fights in the war as a reservist. It was important for the other professional athletes to represent their country on the sporting stage during the war, as many confirmed to him again and again. Even if the games take place without spectators for safety reasons, such as Hapoel Tel Aviv’s recent Champions League game in Bonn.
Open detailed view
After the Hamas attack on October 7th, the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball players only played away, like here in Monaco.
(Photo: Norbert Scanella/PanoramiC/Imago)
Or now the Bayern game in Belgrade, which incidentally applies to all Maccabi Tel Aviv home games in Belgrade, as Euroleague media director Diego Fernandez confirms. Bayern managing director Marko Pesic had already spoken to Serbian officials during a guest appearance at Red Star in Belgrade a week ago and he did not see any problems facing his club. Especially since the Champions League game between Jerusalem and Galatasaray Istanbul recently went off without a hitch.
As long as “the situation in Israel” requires it, Israeli teams will play their home games in Belgrade, says Fernandez. In addition, the Euroleague will also monitor the situation at other venues – which is why Maccabi’s guest game at Fenerbahce Istanbul on November 16th will also take place without spectators. “All games by Israeli teams in the Euroleague and Eurocup are considered high-risk, which is why special security precautions will be taken. A representative from Euroleague Basketball will monitor everything on site.”
The sporting component remains: “We’re going to Belgrade to win,” says Pesic. Which could be difficult given the class of the opponent, because Maccabi has a top-class team and is one of the favorites for the playoffs. The guard team around the duo Lorenzo Brown and Wade Baldwin alone stands for the quality of the squad; the naturalized and NBA-experienced Brown led Spain to European Championship victory. Baldwin’s qualities should be known in Munich, he almost led Bayern to the Euroleague semi-finals twice. The Israelis are currently in seventh place in the table with 3:2 victories, FC Bayern is 14th with 2:4 victories.
And Maccabi is confident despite the difficult conditions, as press officer Gladstone says: “We may not have the support of our great fans, but we have a good team and are a strong club.”