Israeli judo finally handed glimmer of hope

After two decades of remarkable success, Israeli judo is experiencing a meltdown.

Arik Zeevi 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Arik Zeevi 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
After two decades of remarkable success, Israeli judo is experiencing a meltdown.
However, a ruling from Tel Aviv District Court judge Eitan Orenstein on Tuesday finally gives some hope that the current harsh reality is about to change.
Years of internal wrangling in the Israel Judo Association led the Corporate Authority in the Ministry of Justice to appeal to the court last month in a request to dismantle the failing federation, a plea which was heeded on Tuesday.
In September, the Corporate Authority revoked the judo association’s proper corporate-governance approval, meaning it could no longer receive any government funding.
Two days later, chairman Edi Koaz announced that the association has ceased all professional activity, including the direct support it provides Israel’s top judokas.
Koaz, who has controlled local judo for the past 14 years, has come under severe criticism by many of Israel’s judo greats for mismanagement, but he claimed that his detractors are all motivated by his opponents within the association, who want to take his job.
One of the main complaints against Koaz was the fact that he also leads the private Judokan organization, which runs 49 judo clubs across the country.
The likes of Ya’al Arad and Oren Smadja, Israel’s first two Olympic medalists, claimed that Koaz discriminated against athletes who don’t practice their trade at Judokan, resulting in some of the country’s best prospects being neglected.
Now, however, Koaz’s time in charge looks to be over, with judge Orenstein stripping him of his authority on Tuesday, naming attorney Nimrod Tepper to dismantle the association and rebuild it from scratch. “I came to the conclusion that the current management can no longer operate the association as it cannot be trusted,” Orenstein wrote in his verdict, before adding that under Koaz the IJA acted in a conflict of interests and put personal interests ahead of those of the association.
Very few sports have brought Israel the level of achievement accomplished by its judo fighters.
Arad was the trailblazer, winning medals at the World and European Championships before becoming the first Israeli to take an Olympic medal when she finished in second place in the under-61 kilogram competition at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
A day later, Smadja won a bronze medal in Barcelona, and in the past decade the likes of Arik Ze’evi and Alice Shlesinger cemented judo’s place as one of Israel’s top sports.
Besides winning a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Ze’evi was also crowned European champion three times, with the 22-year-old Shlesinger currently Israel’s most promising fighter after already picking up bronze medals at the World and European Championships.
With Koaz in charge, it seemed all but impossible Israeli judo could keep up this rate of success.
Smadja, who has been guiding the national team since January, went without a salary for the past two months, but now that Tepper will seize control, the IJA can collect financial support once more and fulfill its duty to nurture judo in Israel.
"This is both a sad and a happy day,” Smadja said on Tuesday. “Judo is the love of my life and I will continue to work until a new association is established. The dismantling will cause a real mess, but I know that it will eventually lead to success.”
Arad is optimistic better days lie ahead for one of the country’s proudest sports now that a new era is at last underway.

“Dismantling the association will be a very difficult process for the athletes and coaches, but judo was becoming extinct in recent years because of its failing management,” Arad said.
“After today’s ruling Israeli judokas can believe once more that everything is possible through hard work and talent and depends solely on them and not on the politicians.”