Basketball / Women's League / Financial, Political Problems Beset Nascent Administration

A year after a strike beset the Israeli women's professional basketball league, the administration created as part of the settlement is still struggling to stand on its own two feet. The financial and marketing impact of the disruption of the women's Premier League has apparently contributed to the problems.

For years the Israel Basketball Association ran the women's Premier League, making most decisions regarding the league through its women's committee. The committee included team representatives but also non-basketball figures representing various central committees of the major sports associations. The league didn't exactly interest them.

There were instances in which committee members who didn't win a majority used their power within the IBA administration to change the decisions. Politics and narrow interests ruled the women's Premier League.

The men's basketball league suffered from the same arrangement until 11 years ago, when a separate league administration was established. Political support forms the basis of the decision-making progress in this administration as well, but at least the members are all club representatives who live and breathe the league, and not politicos. From a professional, image and financial standpoint, the men's Super League is in incomparably better shape than it was before the advent of the league administration.

The women's league received its administration last year amid the strike by the Israeli basketball players protesting rule changes allowing four foreign players on the court at any given time. Yet, despite the resolution of the labor dispute, the financial reverberations continue to plague the new administration.

Accusing fingers

Gideon Brickman headed the administration for seven months before leaving because of health issues. However, he also had problems implementing his ideas. No one has replaced him as chairman. Two months ago Gili Shem Tov was appointed CEO, but she tendered her resignation on Sunday.

In her letter Shem Tov pointed an accusing finger at the IBA, which she asserted did not support her plans for shoring up the collapsing financial system, undermined her work and put the league at the bottom of its priorities.

She pointed another finger at the administration, indicating that internal politics prevented it from appointing a chairperson who could help develop the league and raise funds. Shem Tov's departure exacerbates the chaos in the administration, which has been trading barbs with IBA chairman Avner Kopel. Administration officials say Kopel was trying to solve its dispute with ONE, the television company which broadcasts league games. ONE claimed the administration owed it NIS 160,000. The administration countered that it was fined NIS 400,000 by its main sponsor, Toto Winner, for infractions including a lack of decent publicity on the sports channel, and therefore its debt should be reduced accordingly.

Kopel reached a deal with ONE for the administration to pay NIS 100,000 for a one-year extension. The administration refused. Kopel, say administration officials, got upset and stopped helping.

"From the moment Kopel became IBA chairman he has not been interested in women's basketball," says Rahel Ostrowitz, chairwoman of Ramat Hasharon. "His deeds undermine the sport and are leading to its demise. He interferes in financial administrative matters when he has no right unless they are directly tied to the association."

'An all-time nadir'

Ostrowitz says Kopel appointed an interim chairperson to pass through his agreements with ONE and the betting counsel. "The things he did to the CEO from the moment she apparently didn't fulfill his every command will be written in the disgraceful book of sins of Israel's biggest chauvinists," she added. Kopel refused to respond to her accusations.

"Women's basketball is at an all-time nadir," says an executive in the basketball association. "Brickman fled. Kopel tried it and left. Gili ran away from the matter. Everyone who has been approached about it has refused outright. There's inexplicable boundless hatred between the representatives." The unnamed executive said people are undermining ideas because someone they don't like made them, mentioning Shem Tov as one of the victims of this behavior.

"The administration is devouring its inhabitants," said Naor Galili, one of the IBA representatives in the administration and a former chairman of Maccabi Ashdod. "Anyone who wants to help gets cold feet and flees because of the behavior of certain figures who look strictly at their self-interest." He says the problems culminated with the resignation of Shem Tov. He describes her as someone who lives the game, saying she came in with clean hands and good ideas, trying to bring in Hapoel Jerusalem chairman Danny Klein. Instead, people drove her away, says Galili.

The administration is now in dire financial straits, owing hundreds of thousands of shekels to the basketball association. Most of the teams are also in bad shape, even Elitzur Ramle. Revenue was also hurt by last year's television deal giving ONE a 10 percent cut, about which one executive said the basketball officials didn't know what they were signing. Another problem is the contract with Toto Winner, which is supposed to double its payout this year to NIS 2 million but deducts NIS 350,000 if the teams don't field five Israelis on the court. "What are we supposed to do with the foreign players?" wonders Ora Glazer, the chairwoman of Maccabi Ramat Hen.

The administration asked to postpone repaying its debt and borrow more funds, but the basketball association is conditioning further funding on appointing its own account to make sure funds go to the right places. The administration board objects on the grounds it wants to operate independently and with transparency and not as an administrator in the service of the basketball association.

The administration meets today, when the IBA will nominate its former spokesman Moti Aksmit to be interim CEO. The outcome of the vote is unclear, as is the future of the administration. IBA executive Shimon Mizrahi suggested folding the administration at a presidents meeting of the IBA last week, but they decided to keep it alive until year's end.

Meanwhile, the nine-member board of the administration will try to fix the problems they created. Until now everyone has worked for their club only, but the time has come to think together about what is best for the league, says Ashdod chair Tali Kriaf. "They have to brainstorm and not bring in people from the outside to dictate to them what to do," she adds, stressing that the administration needs backing from Kopel.

"I hope that what happened last week will make people in the administration realize they are shooting themselves in the foot," says Galili, "but I am skeptical that that will indeed happen."