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A press conference yesterday ahead of the State Cup final began as a love-fest between Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach Pini Gershon and his counterpart from Bnei Hasharon, Dan Shamir. Gershon, however, fouled out when the subject of women's basketball was raised by a top sports official.

Offer Peri, the director general of the Israel Sports Betting Board, the organization that provides the bulk of subsidies for professional athletics in the country, broached the issue of women's sports.

"This year, we have poured more money into the women's Super League, the men's Super League, and the State Cup," Peri, who was sitting beside Gershon at the podium, said.

As the Maccabi head coach flashed a smile, Peri asked: "Why are you laughing at women's basketball?"

"Women, they should be behind the camera," Gershon said. "Look, here we have a female journalist [at the news conference]. There are plenty of other sports that women can play [beside basketball]."

Rachel Ostrovich, the chairwoman of the Ramat Hasharon women's basketball team who also attended the news conference, responded angrily to Gershon's comments.

"Racists are also misogynists, and apparently Pini Gershon is one of them," Ostrovich said.

Gershon and Shamir kept things more civil, and even complimentary, when talking about tonight's game.

"It is a special honor and a very personal event for me to compete in the final against a coach who has influenced me professionally and individually," said Shamir, a former protege of Gershon who served as an assistant with Maccabi in the 2004 and 2005 seasons. "It is partially to his credit that I'm here."

"I'm very happy for Dan that he is here," Gershon responded. "I hope that tomorrow he blacks out and forgets everything I taught him, that his computer crahes."

"With all due respect to Bnei Hasharon, this game depends on us," the Maccabi head man said. "We have already missed out on one title this year (the Winner Cup) because we did not take it seriously enough."

"When I was a young coach at Hapoel Jerusalem, I thought it was impossible to beat Maccabi in a game for a title," Shamir said. "Since I've gained experience as a coach, I've never felt like a favorite or an underdog. I just prepare for the game and that is that. The result is not foreseen."

Tonight's game at Yad Eliahu will be refereed by Sami Bachar, who has been the subject of scrutiny due to his involvement in an investment scheme headed by late Maccabi Tel Aviv manager Moni Fanan.

Some suspect that Bachar's perceived bias toward Maccabi impacted his officiating during the Super League championship game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem - then coached by Shamir - in 2007. Maccabi ended up winning the game with help from some favorable whistles from Bachar.

"He deserves to officiate the State Cup final," Shamir said of Bachar. "He will be under a microscope and I only hope for his sake that he will not make the same mistakes he did the last time."