Soccer fans and broadcasters are fond of using three cliches - the ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes and the referee comes from questionable stock. That last charge reflects fans' disappointment and suspicion when decisions go against their team.
The first two reflect naivete. The ball is not round; its shape can be changed. The air can be taken out of it to divert its flight in a secret deal between the owners and coaches, the players and referees. And you don't play soccer 90 minutes but much longer, in all the hours of skulduggery before and after the game, to fix the result according to the transgressors' wishes.
Hence the police investigation into the affair is not in itself earthshaking news. Since its beginnings, Israeli soccer has seen more scandals than successes. The corruption has merely taken on a different shape.
As in politics, where the committees forming the Knesset lists were replaced by primary elections, and power simply shifted from the senior functionaries to the vote-contractors, so it is in soccer. In the 1950s, sports clubs such as Hapoel and Maccabi, Beitar and Elitzur were identified with certain parties. In a match between two teams affiliated with the same party, party functionaries could dictate to the weaker team to lose to the stronger team, the candidate for the championship.
Conversely, they could instruct a stronger team to lose to a weaker one if the latter risked relegation. The Israeli national team was sometimes put together based on the political balance of power, until a job was invented for putting the team together. The first person appointed to this task was a colonel in the Israel Defense Forces, Shmuel Soher.
In those days the players weren't yet professionals, or more accurately, employees pretending to be professionals, and gambling had not yet spread to epidemic proportions. With the penetration of big money, crime entered soccer as well. Fixing games became extremely profitable for criminals hoping to get rich from gambling while laundering their ill-begotten wealth.
What makes this affair unique is the suspicion against the chairman of the Israel Football Association, Avi Luzon. It's like a country in which the president and prime minister are on trial, and that, as the cliche goes, "is inconceivable."
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