The Last Word: Great success? A bronze medal just isn't enough

Instead of cutting the budget, the gov't should increase the amount of money given to Israeli athletes.

jeremy last better pic (photo credit: Courtesy)
jeremy last better pic
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Anyone observing the flurry of celebrations throughout Israel after windsurfer Shahar Zubari eked out an Olympic bronze in Qingdao on Wednesday might have thought he'd just won all three medals and smashed a world record while he was at it. I was a little surprised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn't go the whole hog and designate August 21 a national holiday, such was the outpouring of joy and adulation for Zubari's somewhat minor achievement. Before Wednesday the Games were being seen as a failure for Team Israel - from Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich's first round defeat in the tennis doubles through to Arik Ze'evi's defeat in the first round of the under 100kg judo competition. Suddenly, with one third place finish, it all turned around - unlike tennis player Pe'er, another Shahar had done us proud and given the nation an opportunity to indulge in a precious moment of sporting glory. Thankfuly Beijing 2008 was not going to be the first summer Olympics for 20 years where no Israeli won a medal. This jubilation, however, was totally misplaced. One bronze medal does not turn failure into success, and those in charge should take off those golden tinted spectacles and realize that, despite Zubari's relative heroics, the Games should be viewed as nothing but a below par performance by Israel. All too often over the last two weeks Israeli athletes have been far from good enough. Aside from some outstanding showings in the pool, where a number of swimmers reached the semifinals, the hopes and dreams of a nation were broken time and again. Ze'evi and Ram and Erlich should have done so much better. Alex Averbukh flopped in the pole vault, missing out on the final. And the three fencers couldn't even make it past the first round. As such, it is time for change - something must be done to transform Israeli athletes from chokers into winners. One of the biggest success stories of these Games has been Team GB. The British have outdone themselves, winning gold after gold and currently placing fourth on the medals table behind the US, China and Russia. The root of Great Britain's Olympic triumph has been explained in one word: investment. In recent years millions of extra pounds have been funelled into the British Olympic Committee's coffer's allowing the athletes to train in the best possible environment, free of distractions. In Israel it is quite the opposite. Britain may be much richer than Israel, but our country surely can, and must, find more funds for its sportsmen. The Olympic Committee of Israel has had to rely on foreign donors to allow it to pay a minimum salary to athletes. The government has promised NIS 10 million which has reportedly not even materialized yet. This has forced Olympians such as high jumper Niki Palli to work in side jobs rather than focus their entire efforts on sporting success. Perhaps if Palli earned more than NIS 3,000 a month from his sport he might have at least made it to the final in Beijing. The Israeli government holds the purse strings and needs to understand the significant effect sporting success can have on the nation. If Israeli athletes do well it would likely have a tremendous impact: giving a moral boost to the people of Israel, inspiring others to take part in sports and thus increasing the chance of more medals, and, even if most of those inspired by the success don't become professional athletes, creating a fitter and more focused population which can only be good for the country overall. Instead of cutting the budget, the government should be increasing the amount of money given to Israeli athletes. Right now few parents would encourage their children to follow their dreams and become sportsmen and sportswomen because there isn't much money in it. If the funding were increased and the set up made much more professional, then the sporting success which would follow could have a dramatic effect - not only another bronze or even a gold medal or two, but great benefits for the nation as a whole. [email protected]