Match-fixing Scandal / We Should Have Been Prepared

It happened many years ago, in the mid-'70s of the last century. In those days, like these days, revelations of corruption popped out of Israeli soccer.

It happened many years ago, in the mid-'70s of the last century. In those days, like these days, revelations of corruption popped out of Israeli soccer; and, at that time, contaminated barns were discovered, and the horses that trampled in the mud looked like pigs.

Until two young MKs, elected to their first term, arrived and said they would eradicate such a negative phenomenon. Soccer was sick and very close to death. It desperately needed serious treatment.

One of those MKs was called Ehud Olmert, who now is prime minister. The second MK was called Yossi Sarid, who now writes newspaper columns. As members of the Knesset Sports Committee, the two declared themselves an investigative committee, ordering anyone having anything to do with soccer to attend hearings.

They had no legal authority, but they had determination and widespread public support and, most importantly, chutzpah.

For several months, they penetrated all dark corners of the stable, and discovered things the police didn't even see - severe rotting that threatened to destroy everything healthy around it.

This was a different country more than 30 years ago - more sensitive to bad apples that could destroy an entire crate. At the time, it was easier to examine players and wheeler-dealers with a fine tooth comb.

Today it's much harder because players have been infiltrated, and they get up off the bench to play before fans who have become used to the stench.

With their chutzpah, the MKs were able to paralyze the leagues - no club either moved up or down, and as a result, Beitar Jerusalem was saved from being relegated to the second division. And a few wheeler-dealers were thrown out of the game for a while. I still find it hard to believe that we succeeded in cleaning things up, and soccer enjoyed several good years of recovery.

But power is never everlasting: The generation passed, and the bacteria turned into an antibiotic that took over. And now the outbreak is far more severe and dangerous, and requires more aggressive medication and a higher dosage.

Like other calamities, this one did not come as a surprise and suddenly creep up on us. When unhindered illegal betting takes place in public, it's clear that soccer will not stay out of that arena for long. Karadi's police staff, Itche and Luzon's association, the betting council, and club owners all know what happened, but closing one's eyes is easier and less compelling than rolling up one's sleeves. If it's possible to wade in dirty water, why make waves?

And when leading soccer players befriend leading criminals, why should it be a surprise when the boundaries are blurred? And it's hard to distinguish between the two worlds: those in the underworld rise up, those in the soccer world fall down, and the two meet somewhere in between. For awhile, it's been hard to tell who's up and who's down.

And when decorated soccer players ingratiate thugs who throw smoke bombs and call themselves fans, then a general atmosphere of abandonment prevails.

And then there are the astronomical prizes - tens of millions of shekels.

In another few days, perhaps next week, a scandal will break out elsewhere and will take the place of the current soccer scandal. Anyone who had a hand or two in the embezzlement will continue to be involved the same way as in the past.

Will we be sentenced to watch fixed matches? Not necessarily. This isn't an edict from winter skies: the scandal didn't fall upon us like thunder on a beautiful day but rather like thunder on a stormy day. We should have been prepared.

If decent fans distance themselves from the stadiums, those who closed their eyes to the phenomenon won't have a choice but to uproot the weeds from the field. And it won't be such a devastating loss, since Israeli soccer is no great shakes at any rate; most of the time it's inferior and boring.

Don't count on the players and don't trust the wheeler-dealers. Only soccer lovers will save the game.