Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon has a lot to lose.
Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon has a lot to lose. Photo by Nir Keidar
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The Israel Football Association's highest court will decide the future of the Maccabi Petah Tikva soccer club on Sunday. The IFA's disciplinary court, a lower tribunal, deducted the team three Premier League points; Maccabi Petah Tikva is being held accountable for unruliness on its home field two weeks ago. During the scuffle, the team's goalkeeping coach head-butted Hapoel Haifa player Ali Khatib; then as Khatib writhed in pain on the ground, a Petah Tikva staff member kicked him.

The decision will have direct repercussions on the status of the Luzon family in Israeli sports. IFA chairman Avi Luzon has kept mum since the melee. His younger brother Amos, who owns a share of Maccabi Petah Tikva, has been lobbying vociferously for the IFA to rescind the penalty, or at least reduce its severity.

Amos' main message to the media regarding this controversy is that the press is persecuting his family because of its success. When Avi vied for the IFA chairmanship seven years ago against Aryeh Zeif, the race was perceived as a contest between Israel's elite and an upstart. Luzon won the race because he secured the support of smaller clubs and the Maccabi sports organization was forced to back him, but he was never really accepted among soccer's veteran power-brokers.

People involved in Israeli soccer have been complaining for years about how no important decision or change can be implemented in the sport without the backing of Amos Luzon, who is not an elected figure. The disciplinary court, which is ostensibly a tribunal independent of the IFA, has moved to isolate the Luzon brothers.

Avi Luzon has cultivated strong relations with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA ). Its president, Michel Platini, is a close friend of his. But in Israel, that doesn't interest anyone. In this country, it would be hard to find a single sports fan who doesn't support severe sanctions against Petah Tikva, even though the disciplinary court never provided an argument justifying the three-point deduction decision.

The Luzon family is paying the price not only because of this current controversy, but because of its sons' sin of arrogance in recent years regarding Israeli soccer. Blinded by power, the family apparently indulged in nepotism in the appointment of a nephew, Guy, to manage the national youth team. A few years ago, Avi Luzon was acquitted after he insulted a referee during a youth game. Before then it was standard practice that a referee's match report cannot be appealed; but a precedent was set for the IFA chairman. Avi's brother Itzik was suspended for three months due to a similar infraction, based on the same referee's report.

Maccabi Petah Tikva is liable to be relegated to the second-tier National League. This would be a severe blow to the Luzon family. The club brings together 1,200 youths, and is considered one of the country's leading youth clubs. Still, Petah Tikva's downturn would satisfy sports fans in the country and cause them to feel that nobody is bigger than the game itself. Avi and Amos' reputations and stature will be damaged.

Meantime, police investigations are proceeding. One investigation, pertaining to suspicions about Avi's influence over soccer referees, seems frivolous; the other relates to suspicions of financial irregularity in a transfer deal by which Omer Damari moved from Maccabi Petah Tikva to Hapoel Tel Aviv.

This is the end of an era. If up to now the Luzon family's moves have been watched through a magnifying glass, today a microscope is being used to scrutinize the family. The slightest error on the family's part will cause an uproar.

At this point, the family members have to decide whether to get out of the sport when their activities are at a peak, or fight to restore their reputation and honor. Everyone awaits their decision. The IFA court will decide on Sunday whether to give the family a chance to mend its ways, or bring the saga to an end.

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