The spate of arrests in Israel in connection with soccer betting has given rise to a false impression that the entire sport has deteriorated. People who think the sport is tainted point to dubious figures becoming owners of teams, or to the suspicions of widespread match fixing that even required the deposition under caution of the Football Association Chairman.
Organized crime is defined as such when there is a clear pyramidal hierarchy that includes a boss, usually the head of a crime family, who in turn oversees a staff of professionals like lawyers, accountants, economists and investors, all engaged in money-laundering. That's how money obtained through crime becomes legal and clean.
Organized crime also reaches its tentacles into the government, acquiring information or influence that it uses to affect decision-making.
I disagree with the view that organized crime has taken over the Israel Football Association or even penetrated its ranks. The widely covered interrogation of Football Association Chairman Avi Luzon created the false impression that something is rotten at the top of the Association. But it is clear to any professional that his interrogation arose out of the need to verify the testimony of a suspect who gave investigators the chairman's name. Thus, his interrogation was merely a technical matter, and it would have been better if the timing were different and it had been carried out with due modesty.
Organized crime has not penetrated the Football Association because it has no interest in being there. Governmental corruption and organized crime penetrate every place where there is potential for high profits in a short amount of time. What financial profit can be anticipated in the institutions of the Football Association?
The problem is that the police, tax authorities, State Attorney and the Football Association have failed to coordinate their efforts to stop illegal betting, which takes place openly on every street corner and the Internet. Thousands of people take part, including gamblers, agents, foot soldiers, debt collectors and accountants. Some people say the illegal betting market has a turnover that is twice that of legal gambling.
Illegal betting is a fat juicy industry that practically invites organized crime to take a bite. It is an epiphenomenon of the sport of soccer, and the lack of law enforcement is like a wink to mobsters. It is as if the authorities are saying to them, "We know that you're licking the cream too, just don't go overboard and don't be too disruptive." Again, the main problem isn't match fixing, which should be addressed by the Football Association and the police as it arises.
The problem is that organized crime has identified another industry with easy profits, like metal theft or extorting protection money, and it is exploiting the lack of law enforcement.
How do we deal with the problem?
As with every other industry penetrated by organized crime, we do so by draining the swamp. Older readers will certainly recall the phenomenon of illegal cable television, which disappeared suddenly after it became unprofitable for its perpetrators.
This can be achieved in the field of sports through joint action by the Football Association and enforcement authorities over the long-term. Parading suspects before the public doesn't help if there is no follow-up once the issue has faded from the headlines.
In this way clear boundaries will be marked that will make it clear to crime families that they must look for other channels. Sports in Israel should continue to be a tool for education and not a breeding ground for crime.