The Last Word: The mistake of a soccer separation of powers

Observing the shambles of Israeli soccer one cannot help but be reminded of the philosopher Montesquieu.

jeremy last new 298.88 (photo credit: Jeremy Last)
jeremy last new 298.88
(photo credit: Jeremy Last)
While observing the shambles the Israeli soccer system has fallen into over the past week or so, especially the cancellation of this weekend's league games on Thursday, I couldn't help but be reminded of the late, great, philosopher Baron de Montesquieu and wonder how he would see the situation. Charles de Secondat, the Baron de Montesquieu (France, 1689-1755) was one of the greatest political philosophers in history, whose theory of the "Separation of Powers" has had an indelible impact on modern politics around the world. The idea, based on the ancient Greek model and detailed in Montesquieu's 1748 work "In defense of the spirit of the laws," argues that the main institutions of governance in any state - the legislature (parliament), executive (cabinet) and judiciary - should be totally separate. The executive ought to create law, the legislature to ratify it and the judiciary to uphold it. This model has since been implemented, to some extent, in dozens of democracies around the world, from here in Israel to the US, Australia, the European Union and to some extent in the UK. The Israeli soccer institutions seem to think they are as important as the government of the country and need to be run in a similar manner. This is directly responsible for the fiasco of the past week in which an unpopular ruling by the judiciary has led to an appeal by the IFA and Betar Jerusalem and the subsequent abandonment of all matches this weekend. To recall, on April 13 Betar fans stormed onto the pitch at Teddy Stadium four minutes before the end of a league game against Maccabi Herzliya with Jerusalem winning 1-0. If Betar had won it would have only required a point from its last five games to secure the league, a fact which led to the over-reaction of its fans. The Israel Football Association decided the club was to blame for the fans' actions and asked its court to punish them, even though it was clearly the responsibility of the police to prevent the supporters from entering the field of play. However, the IFA's lawyer, wary of the effect a harsh ruling could have on the relegation battle, asked the judiciary to hand Betar the most lenient possible ruling - that the game be replayed. The judiciary saw things differently. Betar has been warned repeatedly over the course of the last two seasons that the misbehavior of its fans, if repeated, would result in ever harsher punishment. Previously, the most stringent punishment had come after Betar fans chanted insults against the Prophet Mohammed in a game against Bnei Sakhnin. On that occasion the judiciary ruled that Betar would play its next game against the Arab club behind closed doors. But, the fans' actions against Herzliya seem to have been the final straw - the judiciary ruled that Herzliya would take all three points from the game. While many may see this as just punishment for Betar, the effect on a tight relegation battle, which means millions of shekels in potential losses, is clearly unjust. Bnei Yehuda had won four games in a row and moved within three points of Herzliya before the ruling hauled the latter five points above the relegation zone. Most of the clubs in the league are up in arms, and rightly so. The ruling exposes the flaws in the current system for all to see. The postponement means that bureacracy is getting in the way of a judgement that the IFA could have called with much more common sense themselves. There is no need for such a separation of powers in soccer. The ruling shows that the judiciary is incapable of seeing how its actions can have an unfair effect on clubs whose livelihoods are at stake. The IFA, in lobbying for a lenient ruling, seems to understand this predicament much better. But, importantly, it also shows a lack of progress on the part of the IFA, which, as the executive in this set up, is supposed to be responsible for creating the law. Why is it that they still allow such a punishment when they know that, whatever stage in the season it is enforced, it can make or break the chances of a club who were completely blameless in the original dispute?