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A Glorious Year Awaits Israeli Sports in 2023

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avatar by David Wiseman

Opinion

Israeli striker Manor Solomon celebrates with teammates after scoring in their 1-0 UEFA Nations League victory over Scotland, in Netanya, Israel, Nov. 18, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Amir Cohen

Although 2022 was quite the year for Israeli sports, 2023 promises to be even bigger and better.

What are some of the events on the horizon in the coming 12 months?

By virtue of finishing second at the 2022 European Under-19 Football Championships, Israel qualified for the 2023 U20 World Cup. It is the first time that an Israeli team has qualified for a FIFA event since the 1970 World Cup.

What is even more notable is that the 2023 U20 World Cup is taking place in Indonesia. Given the long history of antisemitism and anti-Israel views in Indonesia, this will obviously throw up a number of logistic and diplomatic challenges, but hopefully none of this will impact the players. And perhaps it can lead to some sports-based diplomacy. The tournament kicks off on May 20.

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Before that is the 2023 World Baseball Classic, which will take place in March. At the previous edition of the tournament in 2017, the Israeli team boldly announced itself to the world. They won all three games in the opening round, defeating South Korea, Chinese Taipei, and Netherlands. They opened the second round with a victory over Cuba, but couldn’t sustain the momentum and lost to Japan and Netherlands.

They followed up this magical journey with the audacious goal of being one of only five teams to qualify for the 2020 Olympics and join hosts Japan in the six-team tournament. All they had to do to make it to Tokyo was qualify for the European Championships, do well enough at the European Championships to advance to the Olympic qualifier, and then win the Olympic qualifier.

Sure enough, this is what they went out and did. They were the first Israeli team in a ball sport to qualify for the Olympics since the 1976 men’s football side. After the pool stage was completed, Israel eliminated Mexico, before narrowly falling to the Dominican Republic and finishing in 5th place.

They now have a world ranking of 20, compared to their ranking of 41 at the last World Baseball Classic. Israel’s opening match is on March 12 against Nicaragua.

The Israeli women’s Water Polo team has qualified for the World Championships for the first time. This is happening in Japan in July.

In addition to events outside the country, Israel is also going to be hosting some fantastic events. In late March, the 2023 Women’s World Ice Hockey Championships Division III Group B will be happening in Metula. Israel is hosting Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as Serbia. The winner will be promoted to Division III Group A.

In August, Jerusalem will play host to the 2023 European Athletics U20 Championships. There will be a number of star athletes competing here, using it as a warm-up for the World Championships, which happens in Budapest a couple of weeks later.

Israel is also co-hosting the 2023 Women’s Eurobasket tournament with Slovenia, which is happening in June, and is hosting one of the pools in the 2023 Men’s European Volleyball Championship, which is happening across August and September.

Additionally, there are international tournaments in sports such as fencing, gymnastics, judo, swimming and esports that are all happening in the Holy Land.

Israeli sports are on a roll, and 2023 looms as a pivotal year, and will also serve as a lead-in to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

David Wiseman is the co-founder of Follow Team Israel, a page devoted to sharing the stories of Israeli and Jewish sport to the world. You can find them on Facebook and Instagram

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