Israel football league rules out foul play with call girls

TEL AVIV — The Israel Football Association has concluded that — contrary to earlier news reports — none of the national team players spent time with call girls on the eve of the Euro 2000 qualifier with Denmark on Nov. 13, chairman Gavri Levy announced last week.

"The failure against Denmark [Israel lost 5-0 at home and then 3-0 away] is sad, but any attempt to link the disappointment of a poor sporting performance with unsporting and immoral behavior is without foundation," Levy said in a statement read to the press following the publication of an interim report into the allegations.

The inquiry carried out on behalf of the IFA has so far failed to uncover evidence that players had spent time with call girls at the Israel team's hotel in Tel Aviv. The findings of two separate investigative firms "indicate that there is no evidence to the claims that national team players partied with call girls and used drugs on the eve of the match with Denmark. No breaches of discipline by any member of the squad necessitating action were uncovered," according to the IFA statement .

But Matan Vilna'i, Israel's minister for culture, sport and science, immediately cast doubt on the IFA's announcement:

"I have many questions about the conclusions of this interim report," he said. Vilna'i said the probe should have been carried out by a totally independent body. "Gone are the days in Israel where [public] bodies investigate themselves, publish their conclusions and put an end to the matter.

"I will have to wait to hear the final report and then I'll draw my conclusions," Vilna'i said. "I am very disturbed by the fact that the players refused [en masse] to take a lie detector test… It raises doubts."

Only the locally based players in the squad were questioned in the weeklong investigation, but an official of one of the investigating firms said there appeared to be no point in going on and speaking to players who are with European clubs beyond Israel's shores. "We are of the opinion that we cannot guarantee that further investigation into the affair will change our conclusions," Yitzhak Rath, deputy general manager of Modi'in Ezrahi, said in the IFA statement.

Ma'ariv sports editor Aviv Havron also criticized the procedure, and stood by the paper's previously published story. "We have learned that the IFA's hands were tied; workers at the hotel where the national team stayed were specifically ordered by their management not to cooperate with the investigators, and that didn't help. Neither did the fact that the players met prior to their questioning in order to coordinate their stories. It's all a farce."

Havron refused to say whether Ma'ariv would reveal the identities of those alleged to have cavorted with the call girls. "At the moment I'd rather not answer that question," he said.

The Celtic's Eyal Berkovic wrote on a Web site opened by some of the players to explain their position: "As soon as I heard about this thing I told my wife that nothing will come out of it. We have a sick country that needs immediate help." The Hebrew Web site address is: www.

Celta Vigo's Haim Revivo announced a few days ago in Yediot Achronot that he is considering retiring from the national team following the publications.

When asked if the reported announcement of retirement saves a player from being questioned, Levy said, "Even though the investigation will be concluded in the next few days, I'm sure that if implicated, players would have voluntarily come forward to clear their name. If we had felt that questioning one of the players currently abroad would have shed light on the affair, we would have had no hesitation in sending an investigator to speak to him."