London Diary: Israel needs to invest more in sports

At the end of the day, it all comes down to a question of priorities.

Israeli flag raised at London's Olympic Village 390 (photo credit: Mark Blinch/Reuters)
Israeli flag raised at London's Olympic Village 390
(photo credit: Mark Blinch/Reuters)
Israel has got to make a decision, either it wants to be successful in sports or it doesn’t.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to a question of priorities.
Does the country’s establishment want to spend the money needed to turn things around or is sport just not important enough.
And this is not just about winning Olympic medals.
After all, had Lee Korzits and Alex Shatilov managed to sneak onto the podium and win a medal we would have been hailing London 2012 as a resounding success.
That is just the way it is in sports.
It’s black or white. There’s no grey.
But the Israeli delegation’s failure to claim a single medal at the London Olympics, something which hasn’t happened since 1988, has shone a spotlight on the faltering infrastructure of local sports, a stark reminder of a reality which is often conveniently ignored.
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Research after research have shown that sporting activity at a young age leads to a longer and better life, not to mention greater success at the top level.
But for that to happen, Israel has to make a commitment to invest.
There are those who foolishly claim that any money spent on sports is a pure waste as Israel is too small a country to compete with the world’s giants or that Jews simply don’t have the genes needed to become top athletes.
That is utterly ignorant.
I could list the great Jewish athletes of all time, but there is no need considering Aly Raisman’s triumphs in London, with the American- Jew claiming three medals, two of them gold.
Raisman could have been representing Israel, and not just because of The Law of Return.
Her coach, Mihai Brestyan, followed his Jewish wife to Israel in the 1990’s and was the country’s head gymnastics coach for several years.
However, Israel’s sporting wheelerdealers got rid of him soon enough, constantly questioning his methods while also underpaying him.
Unsurprisingly, he eventually moved to the US, a loss Israeli gymnastics couldn’t afford.
The size of Israel’s population is also no excuse for its lack of medals.
Israel has claimed seven medals in its 60 year Olympic history.
That may sound sufficient to some, but it only places Israel in 75th place in the world in medals per capita, behind Costa Rica and Lebanon.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of all is that Israel can afford to spend the money on sports should it decide to.
Out of 119 nations to win Olympic medals, Israel is in 106th place in medals per GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Statistics show that few – if any – countries in the western world invest less in sports than Israel.
That leads to absurd situations like the building (or the lack of it) of the new Olympic pool at the Wingate Institute.
The pool is in its seventh year of construction, with unexpected costs and planning mishaps delaying the completion of the complex time and again.
Israel’s swimmers were actually among the delegation’s better performers in London, but who knows what they might have achieved and how many more swimmers would have taken part in the 2012 Games had there been an adequate alternative for Israel’s one and only crumbling Olympic pool.
Meanwhile, politicians (who I will not mention by name as they deserve no publicity) set up useless committees to come up with obvious conclusions which will never be implemented.
They just have to make the decision to invest.
If they don’t, scarce little will ever change.