It's a ministry - don't bounce it

A dedicated sports minister is needed to cultivate the projects and create a sporting atmosphere needed to lift all sports for decades to come.

I read with great interest a report in Tuesday's Jerusalem Post about Ophir Paz-Pines's resignation from the cabinet and from his post as science, culture and sports minister. It was the following line that struck me: "Paz-Pines announced his resignation in a press conference at the Science, Culture and Sports Ministry in Jerusalem at the end of a hallway lined with the photos of the past ministers who served in the office, including seven in the past decade." Seven in the past decade? Now would that be seven for science, seven for culture or seven for sports, I wondered. So I decided to check it out and I discovered the following: Seven different people have served as science minister. From 1996 to 1999, they were just that - science minister. In 1999, Matan Vilna'i took over and became science, culture and sports minister. However after his three years at the helm, the cards were reshuffled, sports and culture were sent packing and the title became science and technology minister. The rest of the time, sports and culture were attached to education. IT IS no wonder the state of sports in Israel is the way it is. With the public's interest foremost on no one's mind, with no one overseeing what the heads of the different associations were doing - at least not on a constant and committed basis - nothing was going to change. There was much hope in the local sports world that this would change when a government led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took office with Paz-Pines heading a post that included sports responsibilities. After all, Olmert is an avid sports fan, was a frequent visitor to Betar Jerusalem soccer games, was active in bringing Arkadi Gaydamak to Betar Jerusalem and did much for sports as mayor of Jerusalem. Paz-Pines is a sportsman himself - an active handball player - as well as a known soccer fan. Alas it wasn't to be. Paz-Pines carried out his role with surprising enthusiasm - though his decision in August to reportedly refer to the heads of the European soccer governing body UEFA, president Lennart Johansson and CEO Lars-Christer Olsson, as "two anti-Semitic Swedish functionaries who hate Israel" didn't win us any points. However after just months in office, with few, if any, tangible results, Paz-Pines is gone and we are left to wait to see who will be the next science minister and whether he will keep the sports portfolio or kick it back to education - or maybe even somewhere else. IT'S CLEAR that no sports minister can step into office and immediately spark teams and athletes to European and world championships. But that's not what the position is or should be about. A dedicated sports minister is needed to cultivate the projects and create a sporting atmosphere that are needed to lift up all sports for decades to come. Every couple of years, there is talk about Israel bidding to host some sort of major European tournament, yet - except for the 2004 Euroleague Basketball Final Four in Tel Aviv - these ideas remain just that. Despite its naive beliefs, the Israel Football Association won't bring the UEFA Cup final to National Stadium in Ramat Gan anytime soon. And one must wonder, do they really think they have a chance against the likes of Manchester, Istanbul or Lisbon, or do the IFA heads just like the attention and any perks that go along with traveling to learn more for their grandiose plans. Perhaps if there was someone with a little political clout and the ministry's funds at his/her disposal, the building and renovations of stadiums would be done in a more professional fashion. Within the past year, plans to host junior hockey tournaments and more recently a WTA Tour-level tennis tournament were squashed due to security concerns. But again, maybe someone with a little more diplomatic savvy could have avoided that as well. My suggestion is to do away with political appointments for government positions that need some caring and understanding. I urge the prime minister to make a bold move - one that the entire nation would benefit from. Take an accomplished professional from the world of sports to lead our sporting resurgence. Capable people are out there. Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball chairman Shimon Mizrahi, former Olympic judo silver medalist Yael Arad, Israel Prize laureate and former head of the Israel Tennis Association Dr. Ian Froman or Israeli representative to the International Olympic Committee Alex Gilady are all ideal candidates. It should be noted that this is no revolutionary idea. In many countries, the sports minister comes from a professional background rather than a political one, like France's Jean-Fran ois Lamour, a former Olympic gold medalist in fencing, or Canada's Michael Chong, once the chief information officer for the National Hockey League Players Association, to name just two. Ultimately, until someone who cares about the position more than the title comes along and bothers to enter the smoke-filled rooms and wrest the money and power away from the bigwigs to use it to build better facilities and to cultivate the youth, things will stay the same. But maybe, just maybe, someone will come to their senses to develop something that we can all benefit from for generations to come. The writer is a former sports editor at The Jerusalem Post.