Israel baseball team scripts a Bollywood-like drama to enter Tokyo Olympics
The team rose above the ranks with minimal backing and support to down the bests of the world and secure their berth at Tokyo Olympics
It is a mammoth challenge to live up to the expectations when you have the weight of legacy on your shoulders. It is even tougher when you set out to create your own. It was the latter for in the case of the Israeli baseball team, as they set out to define their own journey, in the face of adversities.
The seeds of this journey were bowed as early as September 2017, when Israel enchanted the world with their dramatic run at the World Baseball Classic. Ranked World No. 41 at that time, Israel defeated the likes of The Netherlands, Cuba, Chinese Taipei, and South Korea, before finally bowing out. It was then that Peter Kurz, former President of the Israel Association of Baseball laid down the roadmap for securing a berth at the pinnacle of sports- The Olympic Games. He presented his ideas to the General Manager of the national team, highlighting how the tournaments were essential for them to rise above the ranks. Though his suggestions were taken into consideration, Kurz was widely regarded as a dreamer and ultra optimist.
It is often said that the journey to zenith commences from rock bottom. It was similar in the case of Israel, as they started off from Pool Group matches of the European Baseball games, eventually qualified for the 2019 European Baseball Championships in Germany. However, the preparation for the tournament was not easy, as there was also a lot of emotional baggage, with the grandparents of the athletes being the survivors of the holocaust. The individuals came together as a team with all their grit and guts, and punched above their weight to finish fourth, and thereby qualify for the Africa-Europe 2020 Olympic Qualification tournament in Italy.
Israel continued their purple patch in the tournament, overpowering the likes of The Netherlands and host nation Italy. As the tournament neared the business end, they required to win one out of their remaining two fixtures. As dramatic as the proceedings could ever become, Israel suffered a loss from the not much fancied Czech Republic, and now needed to win their final tie at all costs. Israel did not disappoint, as they downed South Africa with a margin of 11-1, and etched their names in the books of history; they became the first baseball nation to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics 2020, as the sport marked its return to the quadrennial event after a gap of two editions.
The dream which Kurz had seen back in 2017 emerged true, as it was after a period of 45 years, from the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, that Israel be represented in a ball sport at the global sporting spectacle.
BREAKING: WBSC, Tokyo 2020 reveal @Olympics Baseball groups and schedule— WBSC ⚾🥎 (@WBSC) June 28, 2021
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Even though they have secured a spot at the Olympics, the battles for Israel are far from over. They are now waging a war for finances, so as to attend preparatory camps in the USA and Japan, to hold themselves in better stead heading into the Games. Right from auctioning signed jerseys to fundraising dinners, no stone is being left unturned by the Israeli Baseball Association to support the athletes.
The Israeli team is far from done, as their quest is not for recognition at the international level, but for the growth of their beloved sport at their own turf. In a country with only 1000 odd baseball players, the team hopes that a medal at the sports would prove to be a stepping stone for the sport back home, and urge thousands of youth to take it up as a career. It is the result of this factor that Israel is more than what they can, and not shying away from fancying their chances against the bests of the event.