He's bowled the world over, but gets no kudos here

South African immigrant and lawn bowls champion Jeff Rabkin laments a lack of recognition and support.

lawnbowling 298 88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
lawnbowling 298 88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Question: What is the only sport in which an Israeli is No. 1 in the world? Answer: lawn bowls. His name is Jeff Rabkin, a 49-year-old South African immigrant and father of three who lives in Ra'anana. But he says his accomplishments have not been acknowledged here, and he can't afford to compete in all of the premier international lawn bowling competitions. The World Bowls association lists Rabkin at the top of its current rankings, with 815 points, followed by Steve Glasson of Australia with 720 and Scotland's Darren Burnett with 700 points. Rabkin considers himself an Israeli patriot, but complains that his world title has not been recognized by Israel. "Whenever I play, the flag of Israel flies high, and when I'm on television, the Star of David is on as well, and in the newspaper, I'm addressed as the Israeli and not as Jeff Rabkin," he told The Jerusalem Post. "That's all publicity for the country as well as myself." Yet, Rabkin added, he and other world-class Israeli lawn bowlers are not appreciated in their home country. "We don't get the respect we should," he said. "We don't get any recognition from the press [or] recognition from the government. I've got absolutely nothing for my achievements. I've got five medals at world-championship level and I got absolutely nothing. One year, I got NIS 2,000." The European Team Bowls Championships are scheduled to take place in Cyprus at the end of February, but Rabkin isn't going, saying he can't afford to travel on his own expense to all the competitions. "I'm not going to the European championships, because these things all cost me money," he said. "I'm planning to go to Australia for the World Cup." Rabkin leaped to the top of the world from seventh place after winning the silver medal in the men's singles competition at the Champion of Champions tournament in New Zealand in December. He was beaten in a nail-biting tiebreaker in the final by Scotland's Burnett. The best bowlers from 24 countries competed at the fourth Champion of Champions, and many of them - including Rabkin and Burnett - plan to return to Christchurch in January 2008 for the next World Bowls Championships. Rabkin has won the Israeli singles championship seven times and the masters 16 times. And besides earning two silver and two bronze medals at World Bowls Championships, he has won a gold in the Hong Kong Classic pairs. Asked what can be done by Israeli sports authorities to boost lawn bowls, he said: "I think just by official recognition. I'm not comparing myself to [tennis star] Shahar Pe'er. She's done very, very well and I turn on my television and I see her signing a $150,000 sponsorship... and I've got to go to a tournament and can't raise $3,000 to pay for my air ticket. "I do believe that the incentives that are given to other sports for getting a medal at a world-championship level, like in surfing - where they get reasonable money, NIS 30,000 - should also be given to bowls." The Sports Ministry was unavailable for comment. Rabkin and his wife, Tamar, have children ages three, four and eight. He started playing lawn bowls in South Africa at the age of 19. He has just started to coach 10-year-olds at the Ra'anana Bowling Club. "I plan to go to the world championships in New Zealand next year and I always like to pick the nice venues, so maybe I'll go to the championships in Australia in 2012. I'd like to carry on at the top level for another 12 years, until the age of 60," he said. Newspapers overseas have sometimes questioned Rabkin's credentials as an Israeli, noting that he hails originally from South Africa - which is better known for its lawn bowlers - but he has lived here for more than 20 years. "Bowls is not a sport that naturally appeals to Israelis, a people who generally prefer physical, aggressive pursuits," The New Zealand Herald reported during the world championships. "Then it emerges that Rabkin is not an Israeli at all. He's a South African who emigrated to Tel Aviv in 1985, where he is secretary of the lawn bowls association." Rabkin, a bookkeeper by profession, works full-time for the Israel Bowls Association, which has a membership of some 700 bowlers playing at eight clubs around the country, many of them English-speaking immigrants. The Web site of World Bowls, based in Scotland, boasts that the game is played in six continents, with 45 member nations and 52 members from "national authorities," making bowls a truly global sport. World Bowls is affiliated to the Confederacion Mondiale des Sports de Boules, a member of the International Olympic Committee. But lawn bowls is not an Olympic sport, and Rabkin suggested that this might be one of the reasons for the lack of funding for lawn bowlers. "I think that is one of the reasons, but I don't know why there should be a difference between an Olympic sport and a non-Olympic sport," he said. World Bowls grew out of the Empire Games (now called the Commonwealth Games) in 1930, when the event was first hosted by Canada in Hamilton, Ontario. In July, Israel will join 14 other countries for the Atlantic Rim Championships in Scotland. The event is being staged by the Scottish Women's Bowling Association on behalf of World Bowls and will include both men and women for the first time. Israeli women have also fared well in recent competitions, and Israel's Ruthie Gilor is currently No. 8 in the world in the women's singles ranking list.