Sinai Says: Tough love from OCI

Dudi Sela will be making his final preparations for Wimbledon on Thursday in London, but his mind will be far away in Israel.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dudi Sela will be making his final preparations for Wimbledon on Thursday in London, but his mind will be far away in Israel. While Sela is practicing his strokes at the All England Club, the Olympic Committee of Israel will decide on his appeal as to whether he'll get to play at the Beijing Olympics. Sela has met the International Olympic Committee's criteria of being ranked in the world's top 48 players, taking into consideration the fact that each country can send no more than four players. However, the 23-year-old, who is ranked No. 64 in the world, has fallen short of the OCI's stricter criteria of being ranked inside the world's top-50 overall and is currently not on the committee's list of athletes going to China. The OCI has given Sela another opportunity by announcing that if he records an outstanding result at Wimbledon he will be added to the delegation. Nevertheless, last week's decision to leave Sela out enraged the Israel Tennis Association, which appealed immediately, demanding that the player be added to the delegation. Sela is not the only victim of the OCI's decision to create its own tougher criteria, with several other Israelis to miss out on the Games despite meeting the IOC's standard. Consider poor swimmer Alon Mandel. The final and best chance for Mandel, a butterfly specialist, to meet the Israeli criteria was to finish among the top-12 in one of his events at March's European Championships. Mandel set an Israeli record of 1 minute and 59.79 seconds in the 200 meter butterfly race, which is good enough by the IOC's standards, but cruelly missed out on the precious 12th position by two hundredths of a second. Mandel may still meet the Israeli criteria as European gold medalist Ioannis Drymonakos failed a drug test and should his result at the championships be disqualified, the Israeli will automatically move up a place. Regardless of what eventually happens with Mandel, his case illustrates perfectly why Sela and other athletes are so upset with the OCI's toughening of the Olympic criteria. The director of Israel's Elite Sport Department, Gilad Lustig, has no regrets of the OCI's decision and is adamant that Sela has only himself to blame. "We set the criteria after a very long process and all the different associations, including the ITA, gave their approval," he told the Post on Tuesday. "We decided that the Israeli criteria will be identical to the criteria needed by the athlete to be part of the OCI's special roster so that there would be a unity between all the different sports. In fact, tennis players had it slightly easier as we only took the rankings into consideration and didn't demand results at target competitions like world and European championships as we did in most other sports." One can't help but feel sympathy for athletes like Sela and Mandel, who are tantalizingly close to participating at the Olympics and now face the reality of seeing their dream come to a painful ending. Truth be told, however, the OCI has got it right this time. The days when Israel sent anybody it could to the Olympics believing that participation was all that matters are long gone. Israeli sport is about results now. All the athletes who will represent the country in Beijing have proven their ability at big events and are expected to do so once more at the Olympics. The OCI is sending out a strong and fitting message with its harsh criteria. By setting the bar high, the committee is telling all of Israel's present and future athletes that only world class level excellence will be rewarded. There's no way to guarantee medal results at Beijing, but the OCI's toughening of the criteria is a step forward in ensuring that the Israeli delegation achieves success agaisnt the world's best.