Saturday, April 21st, 2012
“I am shocked by the events that took place today at the game. Unfortunately, we are seeing that (the number of) violent incidents is rising, and after consulting with [Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat] I decided to halt the schedule of games tomorrow. I don’t want us to reach the point where someone is killed on the field. It is an embarassment and disgraceful, and I support putting police officers on the field.” - Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon.
Israeli football is spiralling out of control amid a toxic mix of violence, claims of nepotism, and a general feeling of hopelessness amongst many fans in the Holy Land.
Here’s the situation.
Two weeks ago, at the end of a red-hot relegation battle between Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Haifa, a shocking assault was dished out on Haifa midfielder Ali Khatib.
As reported on 101gg at the time, after the full time whistle blew Maccabi Petah Tikva goalie coach Ami Ganiv, unprovoked and without any cause, marched over to Khatib and slammed a brutal headbutt into his face. Then came the more stomach-turing moment as Yigal Mamon – a high ranking employee at Petah Tikva – kicked Khatib in the head when his was floored.
As punishment, Maccabi Petah Tikva were docked three points by the league which pushed the minnows dangerously close to the drop zone. But then came a new controversy as Avi Luzon – head of the Israeli Football Association, and a long-time associate of Maccabi Petah Tikva – announced that the points deduction would only kick in at the start of next term.
That sparked a massive backlash amid a widespread belief of favouritism. Eyal Berkovic rallied over 5000 fans out onto the streets this week to decry the nepotism in Israeli football, and called for fans to boycott the league next season unless such action is made.
Fast forward to Friday afternoon, and another terrible fight blew up in the league.
The Liga Leumit (Israel’s second division) match between Hapoel Ramat Gan and Bnei Lod descended into yet more violence and chaos after the game ended 1-1. That brawl lead to the injury of four persons including two arrests, and has sparked the immediate suspension of the league by the currently-hated Luzon.
Where this leaves Israeli football remains to be seen, but we doubt whether a 2-week suspension will manage to sweep all the accusations, counter-accusations and anger under the table.