Sinai Says: Umm al-Fahm soap opera just the latest local soccer snafu

This season, Maccabi Umm al-Fahm will remain in the National League, while Hapoel Kfar Saba will play in the third division.

Hapoel Kfar Saba fans 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Kfar Saba fans 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
After months of uncertainty and flip-flopping that made a complete mockery of Israeli soccer, the decision was made final on Tuesday.
Maccabi Umm al-Fahm will remain in the National League, local soccer’s second division, while Hapoel Kfar Saba will play in the third division in 2013/14.
There should never have been any discussion on the matter.
Kfar Saba finished the National League in 16th and last place last season and was relegated to the third division for the first time in the club’s history.
Umm al-Fahm ended its campaign in 12th place and there would have been no issue had the club been run in an anywhere near to acceptable manner.
However, Umm al-Fahm, as well as many other National League clubs, conducts its business in a disgraceful fashion, resulting in an embarrassment that has tarnished beyond repair the league’s already blighted reputation.
The saga of who will be the 16th team in the second division has filled hundreds of documents submitted in numerous courts over recent months, but in the end the entire mess comes down to Umm al-Fahm’s scandalous financial running.
The club didn’t pay its players in a timely fashion last season and still owes some of them money, but that is common practice in the National League and its demotion to the third division was the consequence of an entirely different matter.
Umm al-Fahm was relegated for failing to submit the requisite financial forms with the Israel Football Association’s Budget Control Authority.
The club was supposed to do so by July, but the matter dragged on for months as all involved were hoping that there would be no need to relegate a team in court.
However, at the start of September, the IFA’s High Court turned down Umm al-Fahm’s appeal and sent it to play in the third division in what seemed like a final decision.
The league got underway that same day and Kfar Saba was told it would take Umm al-Fahm’s place after submitting all the required paperwork.
Umm al-Fahm’s management pulled the race card and claimed that the club was being unfairly targeted as it represents an Arab city.
They continued to fight the decision and turned to the District Court in what seemed like a desperate move as civil courts very rarely intervene in matters under the jurisdiction of the IFA.
However, judge Gideon Ginat criticized the Budget Control Authority’s handling of the affair and ordered the IFA to reassess its verdict.
All the while, National League matches were taking place, with the games that should have involved either Umm al-Fahm or Kfar Saba being postponed time and again.
Finally, last Wednesday, the IFA’s High Court announced that Umm al-Fahm will be reinstated in the second division in place of Kfar Saba after it had presented additional financial assurances.
Kfar Saba was outraged, with the club’s fans protesting outside the IFA and during the Premier League match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ironi Kiryat Shmona, while new owner Stav Shacham promised he would do whatever it takes so that justice would be done.
However, he decided that unlike Umm al-Fahm he will not turn to the District Court and accept the IFA’s final decision, which was officially made on Tuesday.
Kfar Saba, which was relegated last season largely due to the mismanagement of the club under the previous ownership that saw it go into bankruptcy and be deducted nine points, knew there was little hope of overturning the decision as the IFA refused to postpone Umm al-Fahm’s match scheduled for Monday.
Due to its financial difficulties, Umm al-Fahm failed to receive the IFA’s approval to use eight of its players, leaving the team to play with three youth players in the encounter against Maccabi Ahi Nazareth.
Coach Shimon Hadari didn’t even show up for the match as he has yet to be paid his salary this season.
Umm al-Fahm lost the match 4-1.
The scandal that is Maccabi Umm al-Fahm looks set to cast a shadow on the league throughout the season, acting as a constant reminder to the shambolic manner in which many of the second division’s clubs are run.
By the start of next season Kfar Saba may well be back in the National League after gaining promotion while Umm al-Fahm could find itself relegated to the third division on the field.
However, regardless of what eventually unfolds, there will be no winners.
Umm al-Fahm, Kfar Saba and the National League are all losers in this farce. But it is Israeli soccer as a whole which has suffered the greatest blow, rightfully earning the public’s ridicule and cementing even further its perception as being a sport run by goons that no honest man in his right mind would want any part of.