The Great Israeli Soccer Bluff

Avi Luzon may not be the ideal man to head Israeli soccer, but Sports Minister Limor Livnat, who seems so desperate to oust him, has ulterior motives.

One of best-selling crime writer Michael Connelly’s novels begins with the words, “Everybody lies. Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie. A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this. The judge knows this. Even the jury knows this. They come into the building knowing they will be lied to.”

What has been happening in Israeli soccer during the summer recess can neatly be summed up with a paraphrase of Connelly’s words: Everybody bluffs. Sports Minister Limor Livnat bluffs, Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon bluffs, the Toto Sports Betting Council bluffs and the players bluff. Israeli soccer is a contest of bluffs and anyone who buys a ticket for a game or watches on television knows this.

Luzon is far from being the ideal chairman for soccer’s governing body in Israel. He is infuriating, he can sometimes act like a punk, he has ample flaws and drawbacks and his personal style is unbecoming. But anyone who thinks that these are the real reasons that Livnat is so obsessively determined to oust him from his position is falling for the bluff. Livnat has ulterior motives of her own and many of her Likud colleagues know exactly what those motives are.

Tzachi Fishbein, the strongman of the Toto who still has the unpleasant shadow of the Office Depot affair hanging over him, is quite right when he criticizes the lack of financial transparency at the IFA. So why do those complaints sound so odd coming from his mouth? Because he — like everybody else — is bluffing. If there is one body in Israel that has chronic problems of transparency, it is the Toto, where the level of secrecy would put even the Mossad to shame. Try asking the Toto to provide detailed financial information and see how far you get.

Luzon is not the first IFA chairman who is identified with one particular club. In the 50 years that the IFA has existed, almost all its chairmen belonged in one way or another to a club. Until now, no one has raised questions of conflict of interest. Only once before has the government intervened in an attempt to oust an IFA chairman — and that ended very badly.

In 1972, then-Education Minister Yigal Allon tried to dismiss the entire management of the IFA, following publication of the findings of the Etzioni Commission that investigated allegations of match-fixing. The man brought in to run the IFA and to put its house in order lasted less than a year in his position, proving that government interference in sport is never a good idea. That is something Livnat would do well to bear in mind.

Even though the two rivals in this case — Livnat and Luzon — are prisoners to their own monumental egos, there is only one way that this episode can end: Luzon will lose. But Livnat is sorely mistaken if she thinks that she will win. In the end, she will celebrate the same kind of hollow victory that Yigal Allon enjoyed.

Nir Keidar