The best way to try and explain the shambolic situation between Alice
Schlesinger and the Israel Judo Association is to begin with the indisputable
Schlesinger has rightfully earned a reputation as being one of
Israel’s top Olympic athletes in recent years, winning medals at World and
European championships and representing the country at the past two Olympic
However, since London 2012, some 16 months ago, Schlesinger has
taken part in just one competition.
Fast-forward to last week when a
weeping Schlesinger announced that she will never represent Israel in judo again
due to the ongoing, and seemingly ever-escalating, dispute with the Israel Judo
So what happened? Well that depends on who you choose to
Each side has seemingly got its own version of everything that
has taken place since the end of the London Games and you could easily spend a
day simply recounting the exchanges of accusations and insults between the
parties over the past year.
There is, however, an unequivocal bottom
While the incessant bickering continues in the background, Alice
Schlesinger’s judo career is going up in flames.
It all began a few days
after the Olympics in a fateful meeting between Schlesinger and IJA chairman
There are many versions of what actually happened in the
room. Schlesinger claimed last week that Ponti told her that no matter what she
achieves he will make sure she won’t take part in the Rio 2016 Olympics,
something the IJA vehemently denied.
Schlesinger said that she was
ordered to put on weight so that she can move up to the under-70 kilogram weight
class in order to make way for Yarden Gerbi in the under-63kg event, an
allegation the IJA described as a lie.
Each country is only allowed to
send a single judoka in each weight class to the Olympics, unlike World and
European championships when it can send two.
Following a disappointing
showing by the five Israeli judokas in London, where Schlesinger reached the
quarterfinals but won just one fight, the IJA decided to revolutionize the way
its athletes train.
Rather than each judoka training mainly with his
personal coach, the IJA adopted a team-orientated format in which the athletes
spend far more time training together under a joint head coach and his
That increased the tension between Schlesinger and the IJA to what
has eventually become a hopelessly high level as the decision had consequences
on life-long sporting ambitions, politics and love.
Schlesinger has been
coached by Pavel Mosin since she was a teenager and the two also became
romantically involved several years ago, announcing their engagement in
Therefore, it is of little surprise that the IJA’s decision to
slash the salary of Mosin and demand that Schlesinger conduct most of her
training with the new head coach of the women’s national team, Shany Hershko –
who coincidentally or not – is also Gerbi’s personal coach, was received with
such outrage by Alice and her partner.
There seemed to be a chance of a
ceasefire earlier this year when Schlesinger joined the national squad for a
short time, but that hope was dashed with yet another emotional
According to the IJA, Schlesinger and Mosin demanded that the
association pay the coach’s travel expenses for April’s European Championships
in Budapest, while the other five female judokas on the squad would have to make
do only with the national team coach. The Schlesinger camp denied the claim,
insisting financial funding was never an issue.
Mosin is also closely
connected with the IJA’s previous board which was ousted in December 2010 by Tel
Aviv District Court judge Eitan Orenstein after years of mismanagement and
Ponti was ultimately voted as the new chairman in
January 2012, but the bad blood between the squabbling sides of Israeli judo
continues till this day.
Ponti argued that Schlesinger is simply a pawn
in a political game that is being played over her head.
With both sides
sticking to their guns and no mediator managing to defuse the situation,
Schlesinger, who also sat out the World Championships in August in which Gerbi
claimed a gold medal, appealed to the IJA in September to allow her to represent
In a letter to Sport and Culture Minister Limor Livnat,
she said that “the IJA has decided it no longer has any use in me and has
already determined who is going to represent it in Rio 2016.”
IJA refusing to grant the 25- year-old her wish, claiming that it will only
consider releasing her should another country request it (while Schlesinger
insists that other countries are interested in her services but only if she
first procures a release), she turned to the District Court last week demanding
that it orders the IJA to set her free.
She called a press conference on
the same day to declare that she will never again represent Israel in a judo
“Ponti did everything he could to make me retire, but I
won’t give up,” she said with her voice cracking up. “I’m fighting for my life
and my dream and that is why I appealed to the court to force Ponti to release
me so I can realize my dream and succeed where he thought I wouldn’t
“I fought to represent Israel,” she added with her eyes welling
up. “That was the most important thing for me. But once I understood that it
wasn’t going to happen I decided that I must move on with my
Whoever’s to blame, the very unfortunate outcome appears to be
that there is no way back for Schlesinger. An emotionally- charged dispute that
got out of hand has ended up costing Israeli sport one of its most gifted
Olympians. A loss local judo can scarcely afford.
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