(photo credit: Lionel Gaffen/Fotomix)
The Canada Center reopened its doors to the public after the war in the North ended, but the conflict left deep scars on the home of Israel's only Olympic-size ice rink.
Two major facilities, the heated swimming pool and, more significantly, the main skating rink itself, were still closed last week, even though the pool opened in time for holiday crowds to use over the Rosh Hashana weekend.
In addition to being a tourist attraction, the rink is the training and playing area for all indoor winter sports in Israel, including ice hockey, figure skating and speed skating.
The national ice hockey have been forced to use a smaller rink in the center. "We've started hockey practices once again, but the space is very limiting," said Sergei Matin, the president of the Israel Ice Hockey Federation. "Many of the youths who were taking part in the program last year have returned. The junior national team will be leaving the country for a two-week tour of North America on October 8, in order to give them proper ice and training time with other teams.
"The senior and junior national hockey leagues will begin official play on October 27, and hopefully the main ice will be re-opened by then."
Alan Maislin, the chairman of the IIHF, was less upbeat. "It's very disappointing that the main rink hasn't reopened, and it will have an impact on the success of the northern Israel hockey program," he told The Jerusalem Post from Montreal.
The greatest impact of the closure has been on the Israel Ice Skating Federation, which handles all of the competitive figure skating and speed skating.
In order for athletes to continue their training, the IISF was forced to spend a significant amount of its funding on sending skaters to various training camps overseas. "We sent seven figure skaters to a training camp in Slovenia from July 27-August 23," said IISF secretary-general Carol Hasday. "As well, we sent a coach and seven short track speed skaters to a training camp in Slovakia from August 3-September 15.
"Genia Krasnopolsky and a chaperone [were] in Moscow from September 6-19, [from] where he [proceeded] to the junior Grand Prix in Romania. Sergei Kotov, Israel's senior international male skater this year, is... in Hungary until September 27 in order to prepare for the season opening tournament in Obertsdorf, Germany, at the end of the month."
Boris Chait, the chairman of the IISF, has voiced his frustration with the delays in re-opening the Canada Center facilities. "We contend that the management and the directorate of the Canada Center have been irresponsible since the end of the war over the failure in re-opening both the heated pool and in particular the Olympic-sized rink," he told the Post.
"In order to continue the training of some of our athletes, we were forced to send them overseas. The worst part for them was that when they returned, they faced a closed ice rink, and couldn't continue training at all.
"Due to the situation, we have had to cancel two junior Grand Prix tournaments so far this season, and it's as though the entire training camp was completely wasted. You can't have skaters staying idle off the ice for weeks at a time, which is what happened on their return."
"I feel that the Canada Center should have set an example to the entire northern community and should be showing the world that we're back in business as usual," he added. "A great deal of money is provided by the Ministry of Sport in order to have the main ice rink opened."
Shmulik Ben-Shachar, the manager of the Canada Center, did not know when the full-size rink will re-open. "As far as the main skating rink is concerned, while we will make necessary repairs at this time, I can't give you a date when it will reopen to the public," Ben-Shachar said. "The small rink [which is one-third the size of the main rink] is sufficient for the usage of the general skating public, as they don't know the difference anyway. We don't have the funds necessary to maintain the large rink."
Ben-Shachar noted that the Canada Center relied on a variety of sources to maintain its operations and it still does not break even. "The Canada Center is running at a substantial annual deficit, and this is after receiving money from the various institutions that provide money for ice usage, including the Ministry of Sport, the Israel Ice Hockey Federation, the Israel Ice Skating Federation, etc.
"United Israel Appeal [Canada], who helped build the Canada Center, has not supplied funds for its ongoing maintenance since 2005. I hope that the Ministry of Sport will come to the decision to pay for the difference in costs in order for the main ice rink to open."
However, according to Menachem Kali, new chairman of the Canada Center directorate that took office at the beginning of July, the UIA continues to support the Center. "It's too soon for me to make any comments about the Canada Center, but UIA Canada is still providing funding to the Canada Center."