Championing women's rights on court

Ramat Hasharon coach Ostfeld prides herself on standing up for women on and off the basketball court.

orna ostfeld 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
orna ostfeld 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Electra Ramat Hasharon's triumphant 93-73 victory over rival Elitzur Ramle in the deciding game of the Israel Women's Basketball League semifinal playoffs on Thursday night restored confidence to both the players and veteran coach Orna Ostfeld. The win came after a frustrating cup final loss to Ramle earlier this season and showcased the team's mental strength, a key element of their success. While this is just an important step to take the club into the championship series, the win comes as a truly personal gain for Ostfeld. As a coach for Ramat Hasharon for 21 years, Ostfeld spent many years as the only female coach in Israeli women's basketball. It was during this time that Ramle grew into Ramat Hasharon's greatest rival. The sexist language used against her by many of Ramle's fans only increased the rivalry. Such occurrences led Ostfeld to use her status as a public figure to combat inequality for women in sports as well as in society. "There is a definite connection between women's role in sports and women's status in Israel," Ostfeld told The Jerusalem Post. "However hard things are for men, they are one-hundred times more difficult for women. I am fighting against this on the court as well as off the court." Promoting women's sports in the media and fighting against the stigmas of women's role in society has been a lifetime venture for Ostfeld. This has included everything from equal money and media coverage to the general view of women in sports. As head coach, Ostfeld has strived to accomplish far more than simply putting a bunch of trophies on a shelf. "This team's philosophy is not about cups, but about giving any young girl an opportunity and a chance," said Rachel Ostrowitz, Chairperson of Ramat Hasharon and a fellow activist. Regardless of the outcome of this season, Ostfeld is dedicated to her team and its fans. Building a strong community around women's sports is one of her main goals. She is constantly trying to set an example to the young girls in the crowd and to be a model for other teams in the league. With fans roaring in the stands and kids running around, Electra basketball games have become an event for the whole family. The community has grown around this team. The stadium even adopted a cat they call Electra Meow, who has become a team mascot, attending every home game. "This really is a community event," said Meir Doron, deputy mayor of Ramat Hasharon. "It gives me pride and empowers the women. My wife never used to even like basketball, and now she comes on Saturday to decorate and make signs before the game." Ostfeld's commitment to the team is evident. In 1986, then a star of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Ostfeld gave up a bright future playing basketball and founded a women's basketball organization in her hometown of Ramat Hasharon. Ostfeld also set up a youth department that has since become one of the most successful programs in the country. After only three years in the second league, Ramat Hasharon made the National League, and in 1998 won its first title. Off the court, Ostfeld has fought in court, on three separate occasions for equal rights for women's sports. In 2005 Ostfeld, along with Ostrowitz, won a case against the Israel Broadcasting Authority obligating it to broadcast the team's games starting at the quarterfinal level. Her dedication to the sport as well as women's rights, earned her the International Olympic Committee's European Women and Sport trophy in 2004, an award given to only six women in the world, one from every continent. Win or lose, Ostfeld has achieved much in her field, yet feels she has much more left to do. "No one retires just because they didn't get the cup," Ostfeld said. "It is so much more and I still have a long way to go."