With the recent culmination of the Rio Olympics and the success of judokas Yarden Gerbi and Ori Sasson, the topic of sports has entered the limelight in Israeli media. It is time, then, to evaluate the sports venues and resources in Jerusalem and Israel’s other major cities.The most updated statistics regarding the national construction of sports venues in different cities is from 2009, and is published by the Sports Authority under the Culture and Sport Ministry. It is important to note that significant additions to sports venues have been made since these data were collected; for example, the Sami Ofer Stadium in Haifa, the Arena in Jerusalem, and the Shlomo Group Arena (formerly the Drive In Cinema) in Tel Aviv were completed as recently as 2014. The Sports Authority’s records include a diversity of sports venues, consisting of futsal fields, school gyms, tennis courts, swimming pools, and larger arenas.According to these data, Haifa maintained a total of 206 sports facilities, Rishon Lezion maintained 159, Tel Aviv-Jaffa 449, and Jerusalem 640. We can examine the relative prevalence of sports structures in each city by evaluating the proportion of sports structures to population. Looking at the number of sports structures available to each 10,000 residents, we discover that in 2009, Tel Aviv had the highest rate, at 10.5 sports structures per 10,000 residents, while Rishon Lezion had only 6.6 sports structures per 10,000 residents.
However, a more relevant data point is the public availability of such venues, which the Sports Authority distinguishes in its records.An evaluation of the sports structures that were always open to the public or open from the morning to the evening, as opposed to those that required payment or advanced registration, reveals a different picture. Though Tel Aviv had the highest rate of sports structures to population, its sports structures were largely closed for public use.Indeed, only 2.2 sports structures were publicly available per 10,000 residents in Tel Aviv, as contrasted to 3.6 in Rishon Lezion, 5.4 in Haifa and 3.2 in Jerusalem. Zooming in on Jerusalem, we notice a gap in the number of sports facilities between the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and the rest of the city. Although the Arab residents of Jerusalem now account for 37 percent of its population (36% in 2009), there were 71 sports facilities in east Jerusalem as of 2009, compared to 569 in west Jerusalem.The Sports Authority of the Jerusalem Municipality has almost doubled its budget in recent years, leading us to believe that the number of sports facilities has increased as well. Similarly, the Sports Authority budget specifically for projects in east Jerusalem as released in the budget details has more than doubled, from NIS 391,000 in 2009 to NIS 898,000 this year.Considering the Jerusalem Sports Authority’s increased budget and the parallel development of the Jerusalem Marathon as a national sporting event in recent years (from 10,000 participants in the 2011 inaugural production to 26,000 in 2016), we may hope that Israel’s sports infrastructure will lead to a more athletic population by the next Olympics.