Sex scandal gives Israeli soccer team a kick in the pants

TEL AVIV — Members of Israel's national soccer team were reported to have partied with call girls the night before Denmark trounced them 5-0 in a qualification playoff match over the weekend.

The Israeli daily Ma'ariv devoted most of Tuesday's front page to the story claiming that some Israeli players invited call girls to their Tel Aviv hotel rooms on the eve of the Saturday's match and then again afterward, immediately prior to setting off for Denmark on Sunday morning.

News of the breaking story spread like wildfire through the Israeli camp at its Copenhagen hotel Tuesday and brought varied reactions from players and officials alike.

"I cannot believe that this story is true, but we will want to be certain and are looking at ways to force Ma'ariv to reveal its sources so that we can investigate further," Israel Football Association chairman Gavri Levy said.

Coach Shlomo Scharf, who was leading his charges for the last time, could not have asked for a more turbulent exit.

"I checked like I always do, at 11:30, to see that the players were all in bed, but I cannot be their babysitter," he said.

According to Ma'ariv, chambermaids at Tel Aviv's Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza hotel reportedly saw "call girls" go up to certain players' rooms. And when cleaning up after their departure on Sunday, they were said to have found "a large number of condoms" in the rooms in question.

Still in shock from the report, Scharf's response to Ma'ariv was that the chambermaids may have mistaken some of the players' girlfriends — a majority of the squad members are unmarried — for call girls.

But regardless of who the women were, if the allegations are proven true, the players' actions would constitute a major breach of team regulations. As matter of policy, before matches, players are required to turn out the lights at a determined time, after which they must rest or sleep.

However, Scharf admitted that he invited wives, families, and girlfriends to a Friday-night meal at the hotel.

Team captain Tal Banin was stunned by the scandal.

"I will have no trouble in clearing my name," he said, "but if the story is true and the person responsible is a team member, then he cannot remain a part of the team, or any other framework."

Labor Knesset member Avi Yehezkel called on Science, Culture, and Sport Minister Matan Vilna'i to appoint a committee of inquiry and suggested the players take polygraph tests.

Player Alon Hazan said he would be more than happy to be tested. "I have no problem with a lie-detector test," he said tearfully. Hazan said the names of those responsible should be revealed so as not to tarnish the reputation of the whole team.