Yakov Yan Toumarkin of Israel celebrates after the men's 200m backstroke final.
Yakov Yan Toumarkin of Israel celebrates after the men's 200m backstroke final during the 2012 European Swimming Championship in Debrecen May 26, 2012. Photo by Reuters
Text size
related tags

Israeli sports are permanently overshadowed by the twin clouds of soccer and basketball. The former is a dank and gloomy showcase for the racism, violence and corruption of Israeli society. Every few years a panel is commissioned to heal its ails, to no effect. The latter is concerned with tactical questions aimed at balancing the anomaly of Maccabi Tel Aviv, whose 50 championship wins in 64 years are a badge of honor for the club's leaders and of shame for the principle of competitiveness.

But a different culture of sport - straightforward, professional and based on hard work - has taken root, without receiving the respect and attention it deserves. Last weekend, one of the best in the history of Israeli sports, that culture was awarded official recognition.

This list of Israeli sporting successes includes the country's wheelchair tennis team, which won the sport's World Cup in Seoul, South Korea; gymnast Alex Shatilov, who won a bronze medal in floor exercise at the European Championships in Montpelier, France; judoka Alice Schlesinger, who was awarded a gold medal at the Grand Slam in Moscow; archer Guy Matzkin, who won a pre-Olympic trial in Amsterdam to qualify for the London Games; windsurfer Shahar Zubari, who won gold in the World Cup in the Netherlands; swimmer Amit Ivri, who scooped up a bronze medal in the women's 100-meter butterfly at the European Swimming Championships in Hungary, and her teammate Yakov Toumarkin, who over the weekend won his second bronze in the competition, in the men's 200-meter backstroke, for the team's fifth medal in Hungary.

The gap between these achievements and the ills of Israeli soccer and the lack of competitiveness in Israeli basketball is reason enough to rethink the level of media and economic attention paid reflexively to popular sports. Last week's decision by the Israel Sports Betting Board to examine the allocation of tens of millions of shekels a year to the Israel Football Association is a step in the right direction. The state should give its financial support to sports that genuinely deserve it.

Read this article in Hebrew