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Behind the Headlines Israel’s Troubled Soccer Leagues

At a time when Israel’s government is engaged in continuing the momentum achieved by the second interim agreement with Egypt, coping with domestic political and economic problems and waging an international diplomatic battle to win support among democratic governments to thwart Arab extremist moves and those by the Soviet Union to scuttle the new accord, the Knesset has now been forced to become involved in a political battle concerning the future of soccer in the country.

Some Western news media have been quick to allude to the situation with such frothy expressions as game-fixing scandal hits Israel’s soccer sport, or Israel is reeling from the most shameful season of corruption, or even comparing the so-called scandal to Watergate. The entire situation must be placed in its proper perspective.

For some time now there has been talk of game fixing during the course of the regular season and play offs which are very important in the Israel soccer program. The National League comprises 16 teams and the two last teams always are relegated to a lower division. Conversely, the two best teams of the lower division then move up to the National League at the conclusion of each season.

Two young mavericks in the Knesset, Ehud Olmart of the Free Center Party, and Yosef Sarid of the Labor Alignment, are battling in the Knesset for a permanent league of 18 teams and are also insisting that half the members of the Soccer Federation should be discharged, based on a suggestion made five years ago by Judge Moshe Etzioni of the Israel Supreme Court.

Opposed to these “upstarts” are the veteran politics who have used soccer as a method of winning votes at the polls. The veteran politicians who support their particular teams, basically Mapai, progenitor of Hapoel teams; Likud-Herut, sponsors of Betar ll’s; and the General Zionists patrons of Maccabi teams, are firmly opposed to Olmart and Sarid’s suggestions and don’t want any interference from the Knesset so far as the operation of the Soccer Federation is concerned.

MATTER TURNED OVER TO YADLIN

The whole matter has been turned over to Aharon Yadlin, Minister of Education, who is due to come up with a ruling this month as to the future disposition of Israel’s troubled soccer leagues The biggest problem involved is the fact that Israel’s Sportstoto, a legalized lottery based upon weekly National Soccer League game results, which throws millions of Pounds annually into a pool for subsidizing the bulk of Israel’s national sports program, is in jeopardy.

A possible suspension of soccer league play, which is an extreme likelihood, would wreak havoc with this program, Without the weekly sport lottery Israel would not be able to participate in any international competition.

This writer called Haim Glovinsky in Tel Aviv, who directs the tax exempt lottery based on soccer to discuss the situation with him. He told the JTA that he does not anticipate an adverse ruling from Yadlin. As a matter of fact, he pointed out that the Israel National Select Team has already left for Holland to prepare for the pre-Olympic elimination tournament which will take place in Tokyo in October. At that time it will be determined by Israel’s play in the Asian bracket as to whether or not it will qualify for participation in the Olympic Soccer games to be held next year in Montreal.

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