Sturm Says: An insoluble insolvency for Betar Jerusalem

Sturm Says An insoluble

By URIEL STURM
November 10, 2009 06:00
3 minute read.

Bankruptcy, shmankruptcy... just tell me what it all means for the future of Betar nation! Amid the ongoing soap opera that has ensconced the once-proud soccer club from the capital for the better part of four years - ever since oligarch Arkadi Gaydamak entered the scene - the fans of the Premier League Jerusalem team have been forced to endure an ever-changing string of rumors of financial turmoil and crisis, without really understanding how this will impact the club on the field. Even after a significant injection of cash from latest local sports spinster Guma Aguiar over the summer, the club has floundered somewhat in the first two months of the season - sitting in fifth place with just 14 points from nine contests - and the dreaded "B" word has once again reared its ugly head. Under the current league rules any team which files for bankruptcy protection will automatically be deducted nine points in the standings. While this would be disastrous for the already-dim hopes of title contention by the yellow-and-black, the club would still be in no danger of relegation. And if the past is any indication, things at Teddy will remain status quo. The masses of Betar fans throughout the country will blindly support the club regardless of the quality of the product. Their allegiance to the Jerusalem institution is not intrinsically tied to its on-field success, and so short of total extinction the organization seems to be stuck in limbo over where to go from here. To be sure, notwithstanding his tabloid escapades, Aguiar has been nothing but a positive beacon for the club in these dark financial times. His commitment of close to $6 million to sponsor Betar certainly allowed the club to stay afloat in the prolonged absence of its tempestuous Russian-Israeli owner, who by all accounts used the team as a financial and political vehicle, leveraging it against various business debts that have left Betar - and any new owner - ostensibly liable to the creditors. In addition, Guma's charismatic personality and open availability to the press has taken some of the focus away from Betar's financial mess, if only for a couple of months. This week, however, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Aguiar spoke repeatedly about the frustrations of dealing with the ever-present anchor of Gaydamak's debts weighing the club down. "The courts are telling us, and the lien holders' lawyers are telling us they have the right to go into the team, break it up and sell it off… what we did this summer was [just] a band-aid [solution]," the 32-year-old Brazilian-born oil magnate vented. "it should have, and could have, gone into bankruptcy [then.]" Just to be clear, bankruptcy protection would not be a cure-all answer. While it would absolve the responsibility of the team and a potential new owner - i.e. Aguiar - to Gaydamak's (and now the soccer club's) creditors, it would come along with a number of disturbing side effects. Aside from the nine-point deduction, any incoming white-knight owner, including Aguiar, would be forced to rebuild the business side of Betar Jerusalem from scratch and reestablish lines of credit with recognized financial institutions, no easy task to say the least. Not to mention the assured difficulty of bringing in new transfers to a club getting over the chaos of a total administrative upheaval, as would certainly occur. However, in the current global sports landscape, which has unfortunately taken on all the characteristics of "Big Business" rather than being about the increasingly-glib "love of the game," Betar is just a another tiny casualty of a corporate world which nowadays masquerades itself at times in the form of sports leagues. Of course, things could be worse. Just look over to the National Hockey League on the other side of the pond and how it has handled a bankruptcy of one of its teams - one coached and partly-owned by the sports' No. 1 icon - unfold in the public eye. While the NHL has no competition-related penalty in the form of a loss of points, what ensued there when a mid-market franchise ran out of money this past summer turned the league into a public laughing stock across North America. With defamation lawsuits flying from all sides, the courts having to rule on the most petty of issues, the league having to step in and buy the club in a back-alley bidding war, players being left in the dark until literally the night before the pucks dropped and - perhaps the most devastating part - alienating the most important asset hockey has ever had, it was the biggest disaster on ice since Will Farell's "Blades of Glory". The situation clearly isn't good for Aguiar's project, but Betar Jerusalem has certainly not hit rock bottom. Just ask Wayne Gretzky and the Phoenix Coyotes. Allon Sinai is away.


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