Immigrant athletes complain about lack of funding

Chairman of Knesset Committee on Immigration Chairman: Widespread discrimination against young immigrant athletes exists in Israel.

alex averbukh 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
alex averbukh 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Judo champion Tomer Arshanski has brought home many awards this year, including the gold medal in the 2007 European Championship and the silver in the 2007 Youth Olympics. He will not, however, be competing for any metals in the upcoming Olympics in China, since the 16-year-old does not have the funds to travel to the competition or the time to properly train. Unlike other athletes in his judo league, Arshanski was born in Russia and immigrated to Israel in 1992. He speaks Hebrew with a flawless accent, and considers himself Israeli in every respect. Due to his birthplace, however, he said he has trouble receiving endorsement or sponsorship as an athlete. "I get pretty much nothing from the state or private organizations. I have other friends in my league, lower than me, who got sponsors who pay for their travel or training. Whoever was born here gets assistance. For me, there is nothing," said Arshanski. On Monday, the Knesset Committee on Immigration and Absorption addressed the lack of funds available to athletes from immigrant communities. Committee Chairman Michael Nudelman (Kadima), concluded that there was widespread discrimination against young immigrant athletes in Israel. "These athletes are taking their skills and going elsewhere because they are not getting the funds from the state and they are not being picked up by sponsors," said Nudelman. "This is a disgraceful situation, since many of these athletes show extraordinary promise." According to figures presented to the committee, athletes under the age of 18 receive NIS 1,000 per month to encourage their training. While most athletes supplement that stipend with various endorsements, or funds from sponsors, new immigrants suffer from discrimination across the board, said a representative from the Ministry of Immigration. "Often, these athletes are living here with other family members and need to participate in funding the family's livelihood. Unlike [native-born] athletes, they often have two or three jobs in addition to their training," said a ministry representative. Seventeen-year-old Vadim Bushol works as a part-time mover in addition to his daily judo training. He lives with his grandmother, and the money he earns helps pay for rent and food. "The type of work he does prevents him from fully developing as an athlete. He is not being given a fair chance, despite his promise," said Lazer Kaplan, a sports director in Haifa. Nudelman promised the athletes that he would follow up Monday's committee meeting by making formal enquiries with sports associations in Israel. "We need to determine what exactly is happening here: to what level is the racism taking place and what can be done to improve the situation," said Nudelman.