Niki Palli 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
High jumper Niki Palli has long been heralded as the savior of Israeli athletics.
With pole vaulter Alex Averbukh set to retire after this summer's Olympic Games, the 20-year-old Palli is Israel's only realistic hope for success in the sport in the near future.
He is currently chasing an Olympic berth and, all things considered, one would expect him to be supported by the State of Israel and the Olympic Committee of Israel accordingly.
Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
Palli may be part of the OCI's "special" roster, but he receives just a 3,000 NIS monthly scholarship. To put this in perspective, Palli, whose family has struggled to support his hobby turned profession, was found to be suffering from malnutrition a couple of years ago.
"Niki recorded amazing results with absolutely no support. We will gladly continue to help him. We see him as a potential Olympic medalist and he will be treated accordingly," OCI president Tzvi Vershaviak said after giving Palli a special NIS 5,000 bonus to make sure he doesn't go hungry again.
The OCI's support was, however, far too little, too late. Palli is a perfect example of the biggest problem Israel's Olympic athletes face.
A lack of funding and a lack of support means Palli and many of his counterparts are chasing sponsors rather than Olympic criteria.
The Israeli delegation to the Olympics in Beijing hasn't been finalized yet, but one thing is certain, many of those on the flight to China have to hold side jobs to afford to represent their country.
No one can expect an athlete to invest every waking moment to the country he represents if that country scarcely makes sure he's not undernourished.
The OCI revealed on Monday that it handed out a total of NIS 193,350 in incentives to Israeli athletes in 2007. That may sound impressive, but Palli only received NIS 2,400 for finishing eighth in the European Indoor Championships. Furthermore, Palli's 16th place finish at the World Championships last year didn't merit any bonus.
The so-called incentives are actually a non-incentive, since a couple of thousand shekels per year is hardly likely to be the spur to drive an athlete on to greater achievement.
And things are only likely to get worse. The total amount allocated to sports in the 2008 budget by the Israeli government is a mere 38 millions shekels, a 30 percent drop from the previous year.
Our politicians delight in latching on to Olympic medalists and making a political profit from their achievements. But, should an Israeli athlete win a medal at Beijing, we should all remember that their success isn't due to the backing of the Israeli establishment, but rather in spite of it.
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