The battle for supremacy in Israeli basketball has reached new heights over recent years.
Hapoel Jerusalem’s resurgence under owner Ori Allon has not only seen the club from the capital scale new summits, but has also forced Maccabi Tel Aviv to invest more than ever before simply to compete for the local crown.
Nevertheless, there is one issue that has brought Jerusalem and Maccabi to an unprecedented level of cooperation.
Just past noon this Sunday, both the Jerusalem and Maccabi websites published an almost identical statement, announcing what is essentially a mutiny against the current way in which decisions are being made in the BSL.
“Maccabi Tel Aviv, alongside Hapoel Jerusalem, Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Holon and Maccabi Kiryat Gat, issued a letter to the heads of the Israel Basketball Association (IBA) requesting to dissolve the board of directors of the BSL and to install a new governing body for the Israeli league,” read the statement on Maccabi’s website. “A recent study has shown that a great number of teams believe that the current administration body has become highly ineffective due to structural and procedural issues. None of these issues have been addressed by the current administration, out of a clear desire to maintain its power.
“The letter, which has the support of at least 50% of league owners, conveys a will to create a more efficient and objective governing body that will better serve the interests of basketball fans.”
Together with the backing of Maccabi Ashdod, which didn’t sign the letter but supports its content, Jerusalem and Maccabi lead a group of half of the BSL’s teams demanding that the IBA forces a change on the BSL’s directorate.
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As things currently stand, each of the BSL’s 12 teams has one representative on the directorate, which also includes BSL chairman Shmuel Frenkel and two IBA representatives.
Jerusalem and Maccabi want to see a directorate of which a majority of the members will not have any affiliation with the clubs and which will be led by a commissioner with wide-ranging authority.
“For some time there has been a majority in the directorate which prevents the BSL from fulfilling its goals,” read the letter to the IBA, before explaining that the representatives of those teams are acting only based on their interests and with the aim of hurting other clubs.
Several issues brought Jerusalem and Maccabi to rebel against the BSL’s current directorate. The insistence of Hapoel Tel Aviv, Hapoel Eilat, Bnei Herzliya, Hapoel Gilboa/ Galil, Ironi Nahariya and Maccabi Rishon Lezion on a Final Four tournament to decide the championship has frustrated the big two for years, but there have also been other points of friction.
In April of this year, the BSL’s directorate approved bonuses of NIS 650,000 for the clubs participating in FIBA’s European competitions, Rishon Lezion, Nahariya and Herzliya. They were initially only set to receive NIS 150,000 each, while Maccabi (NIS 80,000) and Jerusalem (NIS 120,000) had to settle for much smaller sums.
The timing of the revolt is no coincidence, with the BSL’s sponsorship deal with the Israel Sports Betting Board (TOTO) to run out in February.
The NIS 15 million a year the TOTO transfers the BSL is a crucial lifeline for many of the smaller clubs in the league and putting the extension of that deal in danger by raising doubts over the future of the league, was one way by which Jerusalem and Maccabi showed that this time they mean business.
“The goal of this measure is to neutralize BSL politics,” said Jerusalem CEO Guy Harel. “We have signed a document which makes clear that we want to transfer the control from the teams to non-affiliated directors. We are concerned about the future of the teams, but we are also very concerned about the future of Israeli basketball.
Lets relinquish the power and really take care of Israeli basketball.”
The chairman of Hapoel Eilat, Moti Amsalem, doesn’t believe Jerusalem and Maccabi have the right intentions.
“Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem have clear interests and the letter has nothing to do with Maccabi Ashdod and Maccabi Kiryat Gat,” said Amsalem. “Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are guaranteed their place in Europe regardless of their performance in the league and they are really greedy. Obviously that is not enough for them and they want to control the league and the money. All they care about is controlling the BSL.”
The BSL’s board of directors will hold a special meeting on Thursday, but chairman Shmuel Frenkel’s aim of bridging the differences seems hopeless.
“I will do everything in order to heal the wounds and prevent the BSL from suffering a blow,” said Frenkel.
“I’m sure all the teams want one strong league and that is our challenge. This is a crisis we need to address and we need to do all we can so that the directorate will act with understanding and consideration for the other side.
“From my conversations with the heads of the teams, it is clear to me that no one has any intention of harming the BSL or the league,” added Frenkel. “But there is a desire to reach a new balance in the directorate which will prevent one-sided decisions that sometimes hurt the league and some of the teams in the league.”
Frenkel says all the right things, but the fact some of the teams believe he is a pawn controlled by Maccabi Tel Aviv means his words have little impact.
The concerns of the small clubs are understandable, but by forcing their agenda they are harming the BSL’s prospects of growth. Jerusalem and Maccabi can’t have it all their own way, but their disproportionate importance to the league can’t be ignored.
In the end, as is often the case, it all comes down to a power struggle. For the better of Israeli basketball as a whole, hopefully all parties understand that neither side will benefit from a pointless standoff.
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