Analysis / Let's Hope It's Not True

What the Israel Tax Authority discovered when it examined the financial affairs of several prominent figures from the basketball world two years ago remains unknown. But one must pray that it discovered absolutely nothing. Anything else would be the worst scandal in the history of Israeli basketball, and perhaps even in Israeli sport altogether.

Dan Shamir, one person the authority looked at, was at that time coach of Hapoel Jerusalem, sworn rival of Maccabi Tel Aviv. The two faced each other in numerous championships. Thus the idea that Hapoel's coach would have invested his money - at preferential interest rates - with the manager of his team's most bitter rival is shocking.

This must be said in the plainest possible fashion: If indeed - and of course, there is no proof - a senior Hapoel Jerusalem official invested his money in Moni Fanan's "bank," this cannot be viewed as anything but fixing the game. It is impossible to imagine two rivals being solely dedicated to beating each other when one holds the other's money and is paying him well above market interest. In plain English, one could call this bribery.

The Supreme Court has ruled that no quid pro quo must be demonstrated to prove bribery; all that must be shown is that a bribe was given. But when a coach gets financial benefits from a rival team's manager, it seems that both elements exist.

Asked whether a game would have any sporting value in such a situation, or whether a league would have any legitimacy if its two strongest members maintain such dubious ties, even someone who has never watched a basketball game in his life would answer with a resounding "no."

As for the possibility that a referee - the objective judge who is supposed to ensure that the game is played fairly - also deposited his money with Fanan and then went out on the court to referee games played by Fanan's club, this does not even bear thinking of. There is no evidence that Shmuel Bachar, currently one of Israel's two top referees, invested money with Fanan. But if any probe finds evidence that he did - and the police ought to begin such a probe this very morning - that would be the end of Israeli basketball as we know it.

In 2006, a serious incident of game-fixing was discovered in Italy's premier Serie A soccer league. As a result, the champion of the previous two years, Juventus, was demoted to a lower league and fined, and its two championships were erased from the books: Second-place Inter Milan was declared the 2006 champion, and 2005 was listed as having ended without a champion. Sometimes, when the present is intolerable, one must rewrite the past in an effort to save the future.

A similar fate befell the French soccer club Marseille when it was convicted of having bought a game from rival Valenciennes in 1993: It was demoted to the second-tier league and its championship erased.

These examples demonstrate the significance of the information now coming to light here - should it prove true. If it does, four things must happen immediately: 1. Everyone involved (including members of Maccabi Tel Aviv's management who knew but kept mum) must be permanently barred from Israeli sport. 2. All of Maccabi's titles from the relevant years must be rescinded. 3. Maccabi must be ousted from the Premier League for an extended period. 4. The police must investigate and bring about the indictment of all those concerned.

That is the meaning of discovering that the suspicions are true. And that is why we must pray with all our hearts that they are not - that none of the people the tax authority investigated in fact had any financial dealings with Moni Fanan.