Sinai Says: Everyone is a loser in row between Schlesinger and judo association

The ongoing dispute is heating up as the 2016 Olympics quickly approach.

(photo credit: REUTERS)
The best way to try and explain the shambolic situation between Alice Schlesinger and the Israel Judo Association is to begin with the indisputable facts.
Schlesinger has rightfully earned a reputation as being one of Israel’s top Olympic athletes in recent years, winning medals at World and European championships and representing the country at the past two Olympic Games.
However, since London 2012, some 16 months ago, Schlesinger has taken part in just one competition.
Fast-forward to last week when a weeping Schlesinger announced that she will never represent Israel in judo again due to the ongoing, and seemingly ever-escalating, dispute with the Israel Judo Association.
So what happened? Well that depends on who you choose to believe.
Each side has seemingly got its own version of everything that has taken place since the end of the London Games and you could easily spend a day simply recounting the exchanges of accusations and insults between the parties over the past year.
There is, however, an unequivocal bottom line.
While the incessant bickering continues in the background, Alice Schlesinger’s judo career is going up in flames.
It all began a few days after the Olympics in a fateful meeting between Schlesinger and IJA chairman Moshe Ponti.
There are many versions of what actually happened in the room. Schlesinger claimed last week that Ponti told her that no matter what she achieves he will make sure she won’t take part in the Rio 2016 Olympics, something the IJA vehemently denied.
Schlesinger said that she was ordered to put on weight so that she can move up to the under-70 kilogram weight class in order to make way for Yarden Gerbi in the under-63kg event, an allegation the IJA described as a lie.
Each country is only allowed to send a single judoka in each weight class to the Olympics, unlike World and European championships when it can send two.
Following a disappointing showing by the five Israeli judokas in London, where Schlesinger reached the quarterfinals but won just one fight, the IJA decided to revolutionize the way its athletes train.
Rather than each judoka training mainly with his personal coach, the IJA adopted a team-orientated format in which the athletes spend far more time training together under a joint head coach and his staff.
That increased the tension between Schlesinger and the IJA to what has eventually become a hopelessly high level as the decision had consequences on life-long sporting ambitions, politics and love.
Schlesinger has been coached by Pavel Mosin since she was a teenager and the two also became romantically involved several years ago, announcing their engagement in 2008.
Therefore, it is of little surprise that the IJA’s decision to slash the salary of Mosin and demand that Schlesinger conduct most of her training with the new head coach of the women’s national team, Shany Hershko – who coincidentally or not – is also Gerbi’s personal coach, was received with such outrage by Alice and her partner.
There seemed to be a chance of a ceasefire earlier this year when Schlesinger joined the national squad for a short time, but that hope was dashed with yet another emotional explosion.
According to the IJA, Schlesinger and Mosin demanded that the association pay the coach’s travel expenses for April’s European Championships in Budapest, while the other five female judokas on the squad would have to make do only with the national team coach. The Schlesinger camp denied the claim, insisting financial funding was never an issue.
Mosin is also closely connected with the IJA’s previous board which was ousted in December 2010 by Tel Aviv District Court judge Eitan Orenstein after years of mismanagement and internal wrangling.
Ponti was ultimately voted as the new chairman in January 2012, but the bad blood between the squabbling sides of Israeli judo continues till this day.
Ponti argued that Schlesinger is simply a pawn in a political game that is being played over her head.
With both sides sticking to their guns and no mediator managing to defuse the situation, Schlesinger, who also sat out the World Championships in August in which Gerbi claimed a gold medal, appealed to the IJA in September to allow her to represent another country.
In a letter to Sport and Culture Minister Limor Livnat, she said that “the IJA has decided it no longer has any use in me and has already determined who is going to represent it in Rio 2016.”
With the IJA refusing to grant the 25- year-old her wish, claiming that it will only consider releasing her should another country request it (while Schlesinger insists that other countries are interested in her services but only if she first procures a release), she turned to the District Court last week demanding that it orders the IJA to set her free.
She called a press conference on the same day to declare that she will never again represent Israel in a judo competition.
“Ponti did everything he could to make me retire, but I won’t give up,” she said with her voice cracking up. “I’m fighting for my life and my dream and that is why I appealed to the court to force Ponti to release me so I can realize my dream and succeed where he thought I wouldn’t succeed.
“I fought to represent Israel,” she added with her eyes welling up. “That was the most important thing for me. But once I understood that it wasn’t going to happen I decided that I must move on with my life.”
Whoever’s to blame, the very unfortunate outcome appears to be that there is no way back for Schlesinger. An emotionally- charged dispute that got out of hand has ended up costing Israeli sport one of its most gifted Olympians. A loss local judo can scarcely afford.
[email protected]