Sinai Says: Soccer chiefs must improve Israel's beautiful game

I enjoyed Sunday's match for the simple reason that the floodlight failure meant I wouldn't need to sit through another dull 90 minutes of Israeli soccer.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There's something I must get off my chest. I enjoyed Betar Jerusalem's match against Maccabi Haifa this Sunday more than any other game in Israeli soccer in recent months. You may be thinking to yourselves that yours truly has truly lost his mind, as the match between Betar and Haifa was cancelled after a mere seven minutes following an electric failure at Teddy Stadium. I can, however, assure you that I'm completely sane. I enjoyed Sunday's match for the simple reason that the floodlight failure meant I wouldn't need to sit through another dull 90 minutes of Israeli soccer. One particular statistic tells the story. Out of the 113 matches played so far in the Israeli Premier League, 18 of them have ended in goalless draws. That's almost one in every six games and an average of almost one a week. In the English Premier League, for example, there have also been 18 goalless draws so far, but those have come in 259 matches, less than seven percent of all games played. You might be thinking it's unfair to compare the Israeli league to its English counterpart and you're right. So how about measuring up the Israeli league to the second German division? 171 matches have been played in Budesliga 2 so far this season, only 17 of them have ended in 0-0, less than 10%. I haven't checked every league in Europe, but I'm quite certain that finding one that averages more goalless deadlocks than our very own top division is an almost impossible mission. Not only have I had enough of one boring match after another, but many Israeli soccer fans have also shown their discontent with the dreary league they can't help but love. Israeli soccer used to be a gold mine for TV channels, who knew that they were guaranteed high ratings whenever they broadcasted a match. Channel 10, however, is probably kicking itself for paying a fortune to show Sunday's main match as ratings are about 50 percent lower this season than they were in recent years. Sunday's matches have rarely pulled more than 15% of the national audience this year, with last week's big game between Betar and Maccabi Tel Aviv, which ended in a 0-0 draw, getting for example just 14.5%. The Israel national team has also suffered from a drop in interest. The team's friendly match against Romania was watched by just 8.2% last Wednesday and just 6,300 attended the game, with many people not even bothering to show-up despite having the option to enter National Stadium in Ramat Gan for free. The Israel Football Association sold just 1,480 tickets for the friendly, the lowest amount for an Israel match in more than a decade. In fact, the national team was watched by no more than 7,000 people in three of its last four matches, including a Euro 2008 qualifier against Macedonia. The IFA and soccer clubs in Israel have got plenty of work to do to regain the fans' faith in the sport and they better do so soon because their losing supporters by the day. The coaches must understand that even though they may be happy to settle for one point, the fans watching them want to see attacking soccer and goals. The team owners need to make attacking play a priority and tell their coaches that sometimes the way the team plays is just as important as the result the team records. The owners and the IFA also must invest in the country's dilapidated stadiums and make sure that the paying fan gets treated the way he deserves to be. Israeli soccer is still the No. 1 sport in the country and will remain so for the near future. If the game's chiefs, however, don't make drastic improvements to their product very soon, they will find that their sport has lost its place atop of the podium and that regaining its previous status is far tougher than they had predicted. [email protected]