Israel will be sending a team to the Tokyo Olympics this summer for the first time in over 45 years, competing in baseball with a roster made up of Americans who have gained Israeli citizenship and Israeli-born players.
The team, consisting of no active MLB players because of Olympic regulations, has become a phenomenon on the international baseball scene, coming in sixth place at their first World Baseball Classic in 2017. Over the past few months, the team has traveled around much of the United States, from Arizona to New York, playing college to club teams, as they prepare for Tokyo.
Only six teams qualified for Olympics, including Japan, which automatically qualified for hosting the competition. Israel will be up against South Korea July 29 and the United States July 30 in the opening rounds. The competitors are baseball powerhouses that have professional national leagues, compared to Israel’s less than 1,000 players playing organized baseball, Israel team general manager Peter Kurz told The New York Times.
The team was only able to really emerge because of COVID as players were able to make aliyah to qualify for citizenship and the Olympics.
The team of 24 players only has four native-born Israelis, with former MLB all-stars alongside minor league and amateurs making up the roster. Before going to Tokyo, the team hoped to raise $1 million to help prepare as well as provide for uniforms, food and equipment.
Baseball hasn’t been played at the Olympics since 2008, and the last time an Israeli sports team qualified for the Olympics was 1976 when Israel’s soccer team competed.
With only six teams competing, there is a sizeable chance the underdog will receive a medal, although they will be up against non-MLB major league players as South Korea and Japan are allowing players in their national leagues to participate.
The Israel team will rely heavily on the all-star power of second baseman Ian Kinsler. A 14-year veteran of the MLB, Kinsler won two Gold Glove awards and was a four-time all-star. He will be playing second base for the team at the July 29 game against South Korea.