After 20 years, the Olympic Committee of Israel has a new Secretary General. It is a familiar name though, with Gili Lustig leaving his job as the director of Israel’s Elite Sport Department after being selected on Sunday to succeed Efraim Zinger in one of the most influential roles in Israeli sports.
The OCI may be headed by a chairman, but it is the Secretary General who shoulders the daily responsibilities and works tirelessly for the benefit of Israel’s athletes.
From that standpoint, Lustig is the perfect man for the job.
The 56-year-old was a volleyball player and coached Israel’s national volleyball team before helping establish the Center for the Development of Sport Giftedness at Wingate Institute. He has headed the Elite Sport Department for the past 17 years.
Lustig beat out 18 candidates for the job of Secretary General and is excited to get going with the Rio 2016 Olympics just two years away.
“I really loved my previous position and I hope to build on that in this unique, special and desired role,” he told The Jerusalem Post after being elected by the OCI’s selection committee. “Rio 2016 is our most pressing target. We need to make sure with the sports ministry and the relevant associations that our athletes have the best conditions to prepare for the Olympics.”
The European Olympic Committee decided in December 2012 to set up a new event, the European Games, which will be held for the first time in Baku, Azerbaijan in June 2015. Lustig believes the competition will provide Israel’s athletes with a perfect platform to prepare for Rio.
“There will be around 6,000 participants and in some of the events athletes will be able to qualify for Rio,” explained Lustig, who has also set himself the target of strengthening the communication between the OCI and the different sporting associations, who are ultimately the ones who will implement his plans.
Being a former athlete and coach is obviously a great advantage for Lustig, but he is well aware of the fact that he will also have to get accustomed to administrative work he has never previously been required to do. Raising money and attracting sponsors are some of the Secretary General’s main jobs, areas in which Zinger excelled.
“I think any person who takes on a new role should build it around his character and skills,” Lustig said. “I think the Olympic Committee of Israel has sent out a message with my appointment that their top priority is the professional matters. But clearly, I will also have to perform roles I am less accustomed to and I will not be ashamed to ask for help if I feel I need it.”
Lustig spent 17 years in his previous role and replaces Zinger, who was at the helm for two decades. However, he doesn’t plan to remain in his new position anywhere near as long as that.
“I think that this role should be for two Olympics and I plan to pass on the baton after Tokyo 2020,” he said.
The exit of former chairman Zvi Varshaviak after 16 years last January and the departure of Zinger opened the door for newer and younger names to enter the fray.
However, despite the Israeli delegation’s failure to claim a medal at London 2012, Lustig believes continuity is essential.
“I think that the best answer to those who question my appointment is the congratulations and blessings I have received first and foremost from those in the field who told me that this was a great decision,” Lustig said.
“The OCI highlighted continuity when it selected me and we really don’t have that long until the Rio Games. All the international criteria have already been set and we can’t waste time. We need to address the matters immediately.”
Despite the frustrating results in London, Lustig said that there are plenty of positives which shouldn’t be cast aside due to the recent disappointment.
He has already got clear goals for Rio.
“First and foremost I hope we will have between 35 and 40 athletes,” he said. “I also hope we can make our debut in several events, like golf, rowing and triathlon.
“Our second goal is to strengthen our teams in our stronger events. I hope our team in gymnastics can reestablish its place among the world’s best and we also have a very strong judo side. I expect that we will have three female judokas in Rio after never sending more than one in previous games. Sailing of course is also one of our main events and I’m also hoping that we will send a swimming relay team.
“It is very important to us to have top quality teams and not just individual athletes.”
For the first time since Yael Arad picked up Israel’s first Olympic medal in 1992, the delegation ended a Games without a single athlete scaling the podium in London.
Lustig promised to do his best to ensure an Israeli claims a medal once more in Rio, but he wouldn’t go as far as guaranteeing one.
“One thing is for certain, we need to do our all to regain our place among the nations who win medals at the Olympics,” said Lustig.
“I hope we can achieve that goal, but I can’t say any more at this stage.”