Soccer / Premier League / Fans Protest IFA U-turn in Maccabi Petah Tikva Violence Case

Punishment was handed out for an attack by Maccabi Petah Tikva officials on a Hapoel Haifa player after a Premier League match between the two in late March.

Hundreds of Israeli soccer fans gathered on Monday to protest Sunday's decision by the Israel Football Association to delay its three-point deduction against Maccabi Petah Tikva as a punishment for violent behavior. The protest was organized by former soccer star and current commentator Eyal Berkovic.

The punishment was handed out for an attack by Maccabi Petah Tikva officials on a Hapoel Haifa player after a Premier League match between the two in late March.

Soccer fans protesting the IFA decision in Ramat Gan, April 16, 2012.
Nir Keidar

During Monday's protest, Berkovic called on all fans to unite and boycott buying season tickets until the teams establish a neutral, independent administration headed by someone with absolutely no vested interests.

IFA chief Avi Luzon is the older brother of Maccabi Petah Tikva owner Amos Luzon.

"I didn't come to demand the head of the chairman," said Berkovic. "What interests me is that soccer be untainted. Only if the fans boycott buying subscriptions will the heads of the teams realize that they can't carry on this way. Everyone needs to work together."

In response to public criticism, judges involved in both the original decision to penalize Maccabi Petah Tikva as well as those from the IFA appeals panel that postponed the punishment, spoke to Haaretz to voice their concern over public attitude toward the case.

Judge Amichai Paztal, who headed the IFA appellate panel, said the treatment of the judges is unfair and over the top. "You can criticize decisions, but in a respectable manner," he said on Monday. "We saw with the murder of Rabin what this kind of ambush can lead to. We have to lower the flame so, heaven forbid, no member of the Luzon family or judge pays with their life."

Paztal said people are not aware of the judges' records, or else they would know that no one can dictate their decisions.

Yisrael Shimoni, who was part of the tribunal that penalized Maccabi Petah Tikva three points, defended the appeals panel's decision. "I was embarrassed, mostly for Ami Paztal," he said. "He's a fair man with clean hands who is getting mud slinged at him."

Shimoni said the press ripped into the judges before the initial decision, and afterward praised them as wise and worthy of a Nobel Prize. He said that Avi Luzon never spoke to him, and added that as IFA vice chairman he banned Luzon from the soccer pitch a number of years ago for four months.

Despite defending the appellate panel's decision, IFA officials talked of revising its regulations Monday. Shimoni said the person serving as chief prosecutor in tribunals should be completely independent of the IFA and not appointed by it. There shouldn't be a situation in which the punished party files an appeal and the prosecutor does not submit a counter-appeal.

Yoav Katz, the owner of Hapoel Haifa, called on Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat to establish a commission of inquiry into the behavior of the IFA in combating soccer violence in Israel. Katz stressed that he enjoys the support of several team owners in his appeal.