On the Offensive / Not Corruption, Just a Mistake

Anyone who is seeking conspiracy theories regarding improper ties between Avi Luzon, the IFA chair, and the Luzon family, which owns the team, is deluding himself as well as others.

One could easily label Sunday's decision by the Israel Football Association's highest tribunal as a disgrace, a shame, a humiliation. However, such a response would come from the gut, not from reason. Rather, the decision to postpone Maccabi Petah Tikva's three-point deduction in the standings to next season is a big mistake, both from legal and moral points of view.

Anyone who is seeking conspiracy theories regarding improper ties between Avi Luzon, the IFA chair, and the Luzon family, which owns the team, is deluding himself as well as others. The sovereignty of the IFA tribunals is the same with regard to this decision as it was with the previous ruling deducting the points. Nothing is easier - and dumber - than conjuring up irrefutable theories which disrespect a serious hearing.

The total reversal by a higher court is common in courts outside the IFA - such as the acquittal of convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk, or that of journalist Ilana Dayan and the Captain R. libel affair. That's the nature of separating powers, and it's the principle of courts bearing the freedom of decision.

The difference is in the way the judges in each court interpret the facts presented to them, and in the way they interpret IFA regulations. The judges in the first hearing - Israel Shimoni and Giora Landau - were strict with Maccabi Petah Tikva because they identified exceptional circumstances; they wanted to create an effective deterrance and they ignored the team's relatively clean past.

The three judges on the appeals panel - Amal Falah, Amichai Paztal and Yehoshua Gross - relied on the same regulations, but they found room for leniency by overweighting the relatively short charge sheet against Maccabi Petah Tikva.

These judges also were probably not as brave as their predecessors, and were seeking to avoid a situation in which their decision would influence the identity of the team being relegated to the second-tier National League.

Were they corrupt? Were they hostages of the Luzons? Not at all. Were they wrong? Absolutely.

This isn't about fleeing responsibility, but rather about a specific decision. From the perspective of the judges, the court must not declare a team's fate when it is better to have it determined on the pitch. It is a strange claim, considering the fact that the final places of Hapoel Tel Aviv, Beitar Jerusalem, Bnei Sakhnin and Hapoel Petah Tikva - which were all punished this season with point deductions - were influenced by the decisions of judges in their cases.

It would be one thing if the court didn't demonstrate the necessary guts. Why can't it at least be consistent, fair and equal? And if the violence at the Maccabi Petah Tikva-Hapoel Haifa game had happened in the first month, would that influence the punishment?

The Luzons were not being tested here, nor was Maccabi Petah Tikva, but rather the judges of the IFA tribunal. They, and only they, failed to comprehend the facts, to interpret the regulations and to grasp their roles and responsibilities. They are the ones who ruled without fear but with a bias toward the other clubs.

I don't know whether this decision was harder or easier to make than the one by the previous tribunal. It was certainly the wrong one.

The claims by Be'er Sheva and Hapoel Haifa are not altruistic but tainted by their own interests to avert relegation. Alona Barkat, the owner of the Be'er Sheva club, did not resign from her positions in the IFA when Beitar or Hapoel Petah Tikva had points deducted - but now she decided to find favor with her fans and present herself as a fighter for freedom, equal rights and justice. That doesn't change the tribunals' mistaken decision, which is bad for and harmful to Israeli soccer.

I wrote after the previous tribunal's decision that IFA chair Luzon should declare in the manner of Menachem Begin that there are judges in Ramat Gan. To be a little more up-to-date, it would be better to say that there are also others in Ramat Gan.