The managerial blunder of inserting a suspended player into a game - that caused the Union of European Football Associations to adopt a decision that led to Maccabi Haifa's disqualification from the Champions Cup - has given rise to a flood of explanations and commentaries.
The general spirit of the rhetoric is, "If cedars have caught fire, what will the moss on the wall do?" In other words, if this is how the football club that is considered the flagship of Israeli soccer is being run - under the stewardship of Yaakov Shahar, a seemingly successful businessman - then where are we headed?
The critics have been homing in not only on the management culture of Maccabi Haifa and the general condition of professional soccer in Israel, but on the overall situation of sports in the country. A few even went so far as to attribute the failure to Israeli society in general.
The antagonists, whose arguments also contained a hint of malicious delight, employed the whole gamut of slogans and allegations. They cited the "trust me, don't worry" line of thought, the "don't pay attention to detail, they'll never notice" philosophy, and the prevailing lack of meticulousness, attention to detail and serious-mindedness that characterize Israelis, and which sometimes liken Israel to Third World countries.
Indeed, there is some justification to these claims. Many systems in Israel - the economy, army, intelligence community and public administration are only a few - exhibit worrisome signs that foreshadow mishap and slackness.
However, several events in Israeli sport over the past month indicate that things may not be as bad as has been depicted. Along with the failures, Maccabi Haifa's included, several impressive achievements have been notched in several fields. Israeli sailors continued in this week's European championships to register some notable accomplishments - Gal Friedman won a bronze medal - proving again that sailing is one of Israel's most successful sports disciplines in the international arena. Israeli swimmers advanced to the semifinals and finals (Vered Borochovsky and Yoav Gat) in the world swimming championships, while setting a few national records. The under-21 basketball team finished in seventh place in the World Under-21 Championships, and if not for one loss to a lower-ranked opposing team (the Dominican Republic), Israel might have advanced to the semifinal.
In the World Track and Field Championships, which ended this week, the 4x100 meter men's relay team reached the semifinal; marathon runner Asaf Bimro placed 20th; and the crowning glory was Alex Averbuch's second-place finish and silver medal in the pole vault.
The accomplishments cannot be dismissed so handily. The skills - and results - now required from athletes to reach the top international echelons are so high that relatively few individuals, from a limited number of countries, are able to succeed. Israel's ability to occasionally find itself competing at the highest levels of certain sports should be a source of pride. It proves that Israel can develop excellent athletes and skilled national teams, despite the ills of deficient management, infighting, back-room politicking and lackluster resources.
The conclusions to be drawn from what happened to Maccabi Haifa and to athletes in other sports should not lead to any sweeping generalization about the distressed state of sport in Israel. In fact, the real lesson to be drawn is quite different. The Israeli sports world's powers-that-be should consider a shift in priorities, investment in facilities and distribution of public resources. It is no secret that most budgets - direct financial aid from the Ministry of Culture, Science and Sport, from the Israel Sports Betting Board (Sportoto) and from local authorities - are allocated to soccer, the very same black hole that soaks up the bulk of public funding.
True, soccer is the most popular sport in Israel, as in the rest of the world. But we have precious little to show for it. The last and only time that an Israeli squad reached the World Cup games was in Mexico in 1970. Israel's national soccer team made two Olympic appearances, in Mexico in 1968 and in Montreal in 1976.
Aside from that, the sport has had its occasional but inconsistent successes at the team level. For years, soccer teams from Israel have been eliminated in the preliminary rounds of tournaments in Europe. But in contrast to accomplishments, the salaries paid to soccer players are extremely high.
All of this means that greater funding, equipment, human resources and investment in infrastructure should be diverted from soccer to other sports in which Israel has already proven that it can triumph: basketball, sailing, swimming, judo and track and field.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now