Crucial Israeli soccer summit set for Sunday

League chairmen will meet to explore possibility of an independent governing body.

Oded Gavish_370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Oded Gavish_370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
All 16 Premier League chairmen are expected to attend a meeting at Kfar Maccabiah on Sunday to discuss the future of the local game and revolutionary changes to the running of professional soccer in Israel.
The growing discontent with the way the Israel Football Association has managed the local game reached a record high following the recent violent brawls, reviving the idea of setting up an independent body to run the professional leagues, as is customary in most European countries.
Maccabi Haifa owner Jacob Shahar pushed for a breakaway a decade ago, but it was rejected by the small teams who were concerned about being financially deprived by the big clubs.
Ashdod SC owner Jacky Ben-Zaken, who was one of those who objected to Shahar’s plan, met with the Haifa owner on Tuesday, as well as Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s Izzy Sheratzky and Hapoel Beersheba’s Alona Barkat, to clear the air ahead of Sunday’s crucial meeting with representatives from the entire league.
The relegation battle could be decided by the time the chairmen meet, with Hapoel Petah Tikva having the opportunity to effectively relegate its arch-rival Maccabi Petah Tikva with a win in Saturday’s derby at the Moshava Stadium.
Both teams had extra time to prepare for the match after it was postponed by a week together with the rest of last weekend’s fixtures following last Friday’s on-field fight between players and officials of National League clubs Hapoel Ramat Gan and Bnei Lod.
Both Ramat Gan and Lod were deducted three points and had their squads decimated by suspensions by the IFA’s disciplinary court, which is still reeling from the criticism leveled at it for the way it handled the brawl that followed the Premier League match between Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Haifa last month.
Petah Tikva was initially deducted three points, only to have its punishment deferred to next season by the High Court. However, last Friday’s scuffle prompted the IFA to hold a third hearing and ultimately the team was subtracted the points this season.
As a result, Petah Tikva trails Beersheba and safety by six points with four more matches to play this season.
Hapoel Petah Tikva has already lost any hope of survival and will be relegated after four seasons in the Premier League, but it can soften the pain of demotion by taking its much-hated rival with it to the National League.
Maccabi has picked up just five points from a possible 27 over its last nine matches and it needs to get back on track quickly, preferably with Saturday’s derby.
Also Saturday, Beersheba visits Hapoel Rishon Lezion, knowing a road win combined with a loss by Maccabi Petah Tikva would give it a nine-point gap with only nine possible points left to play for, essentially clinching it another season of top-flight soccer.
Hapoel Haifa, which is two points ahead of the southerners, travels to Hapoel Acre.
On Sunday, Betar Jerusalem, which officially secured another season in the Premier League following Petah Tikva’s point deduction, goes for its seventh-straight win when it visits Hapoel Ramat Hasharon in the relegation playoffs.
The white-hot battle for European qualification also continues on Saturday, with everyone from second-placed Maccabi Netanya to Ashdod SC in eighth, five points back, still legitimately believing in their chances of playing in the Europa League next season.
With Netanya not visiting Maccabi Tel Aviv until Monday, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa, Bnei Sakhnin and Bnei Yehuda enter Saturday with a chance to move up to second.
Hapoel Tel Aviv welcomes Sakhnin, Haifa visits Bnei Yehuda, while champion Ironi Kiryat Shmona hosts Ashdod.