Show them the money

With its biggest delegation yet, Israel's Olympic Committee is warily proud, but not counting on any promised support from the state.

Gili Lostig, the director of the Elite Sport Department, the division set up in 1984 to oversee the selection of athletes for the Olympics, also takes a lot of pride in the size of the delegation. "We decided to toughen the criteria after the Athens Olympics and despite that, we will be traveling to Beijing with the biggest delegation we've ever had. Thanks to the Sydney E. Frank Foundation, we set up a 2012 project in which we're investing heavily in potential sportsmen for the London Games, and 12 of the athletes in the delegation belong to that project." The OCI has yet to receive NIS 10 million for Olympic preparations promised by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and OCI secretary-general Efraim Zinger says that had it not been for the $12 million donated by the Sydney E. Frank Foundation, the athletes would have been in serious trouble. "We need to thank the Sydney Frank Foundation for the donation we received during 2005, because otherwise the entire Olympic preparations program would have collapsed," Zinger says. "You never know if and when the NIS 10 million allocated by the government for the Olympic preparations will actually arrive. To make matters even worse, the Sports Gambling Regulatory Council, which is the biggest funder of the OCI and sport as a whole in Israel, is also paralyzed at the moment. "I really hope donations, such as the one made by the Sidney Frank Foundation, will be followed by similar contributions after the Beijing Games." Zinger feels that there's only one solution to the current absurd state. "As long as there's no Olympic preparation law to outline governmental budgeting, sport in this country will continue to look as it does," he says. "The United States Olympic Committee doesn't receive federal funding, but there's an entire system of support in America and the business community is very involved. There's another model in which the public sector is very dominant. "To be in a state where you have neither is very difficult. That's why we try to locate the few exceptional athletes we have and take care of them as best as we can. This situation means that if certain athletes are injured then we have no suitable backup. This isn't a normal or healthy structure." Zinger believes the current situation can be amended and that the local attitude toward sport can be changed. "I hope that one day the decision makers on the national level will understand the significance of sport. They need to recognize the social role of sport and that it bridges the gaps in society and connects Israel and world Jewry," he says. "Sport can act as a bridge between Israel and young Jews abroad as everybody speaks the international language of sport. "As soon as the decision makers understand this, things will change. All they need to do is take a look at the way sport is treated in Europe and in any other civilized country." Despite all the troubles, Zinger is certain the OCI gave the athletes all the support they needed ahead of the Olympics. "All in all I'm very pleased with our preparations. Never have our Olympic athletes and coaches received so much help," he says. Lostig agrees with Zinger. "The top athletes, who are supposed to reach finals and win medals, were given whatever they requested. They had an ideal preparation for the Games. We're entering the Olympics in the knowledge that we've done the maximum and what happens from now is out of our hands." According to Lostig, the athletes will return with at least one medal. "Our goal remains to win one or two medals and to reach approximately eight finals. One of the medals has to be won in the sailing competitions. We have three candidates in the sailing. The medal could come from Udi Gal and Gidi Kliger, Shahar Tzuberi or Nike Kornicki and Vered Buskila. "The second medal may come from the judo, with Arik Ze'evi the big favorite, and might also be won by Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich in the men's [tennis] doubles. Any of the youngsters could also spring a surprise and possibly claim a medal."