It’s time to hear the pleas of deaf athletes in Israel

Sinai Says: On September 16, 3rd World Deaf Basketball Championships will get underway in Italy, and once more Israel nat'l team has been forced to beg for money in order to represent the country that shamelessly fails to fund it.

Deaf Basketball Team 311 (photo credit: Israel Deaf Sport Organization)
Deaf Basketball Team 311
(photo credit: Israel Deaf Sport Organization)
It is often said that no news is good news.
Not in this case.
On September 16, the 3rd World Deaf Basketball Championships will get underway in Palermo, Italy, and once more the Israel national team has been forced to beg for money in order to represent the country that shamelessly fails to fund it.
It was just over three years ago that the plight of the Israel deaf team was recounted in this very space and it seems as if nothing has changed since then.
Emergency donations ensured that the team could take part in the 9th European Championships in Germany in June 2008, with Clalit Health Services even agreeing to sponsor the team to the sum of NIS 250,000.
However, with the country’s sporting establishment granting the Israel Deaf Sport Organization, which oversees all deaf sports, a meager budget of NIS 144,000 a year there was never going to be any chance that the basketball team would be able to afford the trip to the World Championships, which is estimated at around NIS 74,000.

A recent contribution of basketballs will save the team a couple of thousand shekels, but Doron Kramer’s side is still trying to figure out a way to buy the game and training jerseys it needs, not to mention raising the NIS 46,000 it requires to pay its hotel bill in Palermo.
“We have become beggars. Every year we have to beg for money from private people and businesses,” Kramer told me earlier this week. “We are one month away from the start of the World Championships and we are without basic things like training jerseys. People are working very hard to try and raise money, but we still need a significant amount.
“We are an Israel national team and we have to beg for donations.
It’s the same story every year.”
After working as an assistant to previous coach Robi Balinko, Kramer became the team’s head coach during the Deaflympics in Taiwan two years ago.
Balinko had to return to Israel for health reasons midway through the competition and Kramer guided the team to a last-second upset victory over Ukraine in the quarterfinals that eventually resulted in Israel ending the event in a record fourth position.
After a 20-year playing career, 17 of them in the National League, Kramer retired last summer and currently splits his time between coaching Elitzur Netanya’s youth team and working as the Athletic Director of the American International School in Israel.
However, he also finds the time to coach the deaf team four times a week, recognizing the importance of helping the less fortunate members of society.
“I will never really understand what it’s like for a deaf person to play basketball. But I think that the biggest compliment I can give them is that I treat them just the same as I do hearing players,” he said.
“Small things in practice that you don’t even think about when you are training a regular team turn into something complicated with deaf players because everything has to be translated and clarified.
“When I took the job I demanded to receive sign language lessons because I saw how the American team was run in the Deaflympics in Taiwan and how they communicated almost exclusively through sign language.
“It’s an unbelievable experience. It puts everything else into perspective.
“You just have to admire these people that overcome this disability and sustain a normal lifestyle.”
Each player had to fork out more than NIS 2,000 of his own money to take part in the 2007 World Championships in China, where the Israeli deaf team finished sixth.
Kramer is desperate to avoid a similar scenario, but he admitted that there may not be any other option.
“I’ve asked not to mention it to the players because it would break up the team,” he said. “Players would simply stop coming to training.
As it is, they are all volunteering and some of them have to pay for their journeys from Beersheba and Arad to get to training sessions.”
Any way you look at it, there is no excuse for the trials and tribulations Israel’s top deaf basketball players undergo every time they want to represent their country with honor in international competition.
The appalling manner in which the sporting establishment disregards the deaf is a true mark of disgrace on Israel, and if experience has taught us anything, there’s little reason to expect any change in the near future.
Nevertheless, Kramer is optimistic that, some way or another, the team will find a way to play in the World Championships and he is even hopeful that the recent protests for social justice will bring about a long-overdue improvement in the way his side is treated.
“These are times when there is a sense of change in the air. I think that we can add this issue to all that is going on,” he said.
“There’s a feeling that the order of priorities is about to change and the way we treat the weaker parts of society must be addressed. I really hope that we are part of this revolution.”
For more information/contributions, please contact the Israel Deaf Sport Organization directly at [email protected] [email protected]