Returning sports minister vows to do it right this time
After regaining the role she held three years ago, Limor Livnat says she intends to invest in the country's younger generation.
By JEREMY LAST
When she served as Minister of Education, Culture and Sports under then-prime minister Ariel Sharon between 2003 and 2006, veteran Likud MK Limor Livnat was criticized for not dedicating enough time and focus to improving the quality of sports in Israel.
Luckily for Livnat she has been given a chance to redeem herself and improve on her record, as three months ago she was appointed Minister of Culture and Sport by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, an opportunity she is eager to exploit.
Significantly, Livnat's new title does not include the word "education," meaning that the 58-year-old will have far more time for sports and culture.
And she has already made a good start, increasing the funding for the sports department by 42 percent to NIS 67 million in the 2010/11 budget, assuming it passes its final read.
This figure represents the highest the sports budget has been in six years, something that can only be good for the future of sports in this country.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post in her Knesset office this week, Livnat admitted she "didn't have enough time to focus on sport last time, as I was education and culture minister as well."
However, she is brimming with ideas and enthusiasm for raising Israel's profile and status within the international sporting community by investing in youth.
"I am still preparing my agenda for this term, because I want to do it in a very serious way and do the right things," Livnat said.
"First of all, I think that we have to attract the young generation. This is an important mission, something that has never been done seriously enough.
"This is very important goal because if we want to raise champions then we have to invest in the young generations. It starts right from the beginning."
Of course, there are some examples of home grown success, with one coming to prominence over the last week.
Livnat described Omri Casspi's achievement of being drafted to the NBA's Sacramento Kings as "great for Israel."
"It can be a push for young people because they feel like they can also do it. He made it. We're very proud of him.
"He is really a great basketball player, but it's more than that. He's a great guy. He's modest. When a guy like him comes along, it shows Israel's beautiful face."
Although she was unable to reveal any specific details of her plans, it was clear Livnat is genuinely concerned about Israel's sporting future.
She is also a well known feminist, who is doing her utmost to raise the profile of women's sports in this country.
In her first period as sports minister, one area she did hone in on was women's sports, encouraging the Toto to allocate some NIS 80m. to female sports and initiating the first woman's sport council.
Livnat said she intends to continue this mission in her current position. "Of course this is an ambitious goal, but it is very important for me," Livnat said.
"I want to get into the minds of the people that women and women in sport is a very important part of sports and that sport is not only for men.
"It is a process, it will not be easy but it has started already and I believe that we will be able to keep it going."
One concern Israeli sports fans have had this summer is the sudden drop in funding in local soccer.
While wealthy businessmen such as Arkadi Gaydamak, Alex Shnaider and Daniel Jammer were happy to pump millions of shekels into clubs over the past few years, this summer the money has apparently dried up.
While Livnat did her best to shy away from controversy, she was quick to criticize the massive surge in funding that Israeli soccer experienced, saying she believes the current situation is preferable.
"The real problem is not that there will be a downturn but that there was too much money in soccer given by private businesspeople. Some of them gave too much money, meaning that the others had to give more money than they are used to. That is what created the whole chaos in the field," she said, before launching what appeared to be a thinly veiled attack on Gaydamak.
"From the moment that one of them started to pay enormous fees to players, it started to be a real chaos and I think it affected [the league]. Now, from this year, the money that they invest and the fees that they pay are getting back to normal, and this is good news for soccer."
Next week will see the start of the 18th Maccabiah Games, the so-called "Jewish Olympics" held in Israel every four years, and Livnat had nothing but praise for the event.
"The fact that over 5,000 Jewish men and women come to Israel from tens of countries, and meet up with each other, is wonderful," she said.
"It is about sport but also about meeting other Jews who live far away from each other and doing it here in Israel, the homeland of the Jews. I find it unique, attractive and very touching."
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