Soccer Millions in Sponsorship Under Threat if IFA Fails to Curb Violence

Sports minister and Sports Betting Board threaten to pull plug.

The head of the Israel Sports Betting Board yesterday threatened to suspend millions of shekels in funding to the Israel Football Association if it fails to tackle violence in the sport.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat and Israel Sports Betting Board Chairman Zachi Fishbein held a joint press conference yesterday in response to recent violent incidents in Israeli soccer, including the IFA's decision to postpone deducting three league points from Maccabi Petah Tikva until next season following an attack by club officials on a Hapoel Haifa player.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat: 'Israeli soccer has reached an unprecedented low point and stands at the edge of an abyss.'Michal Fattal

Fishbein threatened to suspend the ISBB's support for soccer if no "serious" plan to curtail violence is enacted by January 2013. The agency that Fishbein heads allocates some NIS 120 million a year to the IFA, including NIS 80 million in league sponsorship. "The situation has reached the point of no return," he said. "We have to act before a disaster occurs. We have no intention of subsidizing an inferior brand with such sums. We demand that the IFA present a strategic plan to eradicate violence. Otherwise, we'll cancel the funding."

"Israeli soccer has reached an unprecedented low point and stands on the edge of an abyss," Livnat said. "I don't intend to stand by and watch as the situation goes from bad to worse.

"I intend to use all the tools at my disposal," she added. "To my dismay, my authority in such issues is limited. If it was up to me, things would look different. The decision by the IFA's supreme court [to postpone the points deduction] legitimizes violence. Real supporters feel frustrated, disgruntled and cheated."

Livnat has decided to appoint a committee headed by former police Maj. Gen. David Tzur to examine policing in and around stadiums.

Livnat has told the IFA executives in a letter that the IFA chairman should be an independent public figure, free of allegiances to soccer clubs or sporting organizations. "I didn't elect [IFA chairman] Avi Luzon, and I don't select the IFA executive. I just asked them to do the right thing for the future of Israeli soccer," she said. "Decision makers should be free of vested interests."

Luzon, who left for a UEFA meeting in Switzerland yesterday, continues to maintain his media silence.

The IFA said in a statement: "We have no intention of acting out of emotions, populism or media pressure. All decisions are taken seriously, and only for the good of Israeli soccer. We are encouraged by the fact that the sports minister and ISBB chairman are showing concern and want to end the violence. It is important to point out that the IFA is not the central body responsible for eradicating violence. That is mainly in the hands of the police and courts."