A Sports Minister Without Sports

The way things are looking at the moment, this will again be a large, even gigantic, government comprising 30 ministers; perhaps the fattest government in the history of the state.

In advance of any new government and in the midst of composing it, all kinds of ideas always arise and various initiatives are proposed. This time, too, sports media people are pushing for the appointment of a minister of sport who will devote all of his time and energy to this important area. The Sports Channel has even been conducting in recent weeks a kind of survey - who should be the minister in charge of muscular Jewry, and the interested public has already ruled on its majority preference. One of the channel's stars is the preferred candidate; another star is born. I am in favor. Why not?

The way things are looking at the moment, this will again be a large, even gigantic, government comprising 30 ministers; perhaps the fattest government in the history of the state, and the minister of sport there would also be responsible for diet. With so many superfluous ministers and deputy ministers, what difference will it make if there is another one of the superfluous sort?

Even sensible people, some of them journalists, are tempted to believe that a special minister is the desired solution. And in the case before us, if there is indeed a minister, there will be sport at long last; this is a false belief, of course. Even ministers do not make something out of thin air, and in Israel there is no real sport. Although signs of sport are discovered here and there, and its stock rises for a moment, most of the drillings are disappointing and come up dry.

Since, for example, the Science Ministry was separated from the Education Ministry, has anything good happened to science in Israel? And science, as opposed to sport, is something we do in fact have here, though not thanks to any minister but rather thanks to the scientists and their institutions. And there is also cultural life here, and it is made neither richer nor poorer when a minister of culture, who alternately appears and disappears, conducts it; who even knows when he's there and when he's not?

If a sports minister is appointed, who will he be? He will come from the third rank of politicians, because for those from the first rank it is not respectable to accept a junior portfolio. And a junior minister can indeed honor sports events with his erased presence, but not much more than that. Even a minister from the front benches finds it hard to accrue resources for his interests, never mind his colleagues from the back benches. He will sit there around the government table, forlorn, with his tongue hanging out and his eyes extinguished, and it is doubtful that his ministerial colleagues will want to hear what he has to say; they will just wait impatiently for him to stop blathering to them about his sport, if he is even given the floor.

In short order, his creators will turn against him and make of their sports minister a heap of bones because he hasn't been demonstrating muscle. Sport, too, is above all a matter of culture, and the prestige of culture in a country does not depend on the shape of its bureaucracy: A Sports Ministry will perhaps arise, if they scrabble beneath the earth for something for a party hack to do, but sport itself will not have a rebirth. It needs legs and not crutches.

The promoters of this initiative have a strong argument in its favor: Bring us a minister of our own "as is common in every properly run country." When I hear this "common" 10 times over, I have no alternative but to check it. And what has this check found? In the vast majority of the "properly run countries," there is no minister of sport. The area of sport is usually connected to other areas that are related, or sometimes not so related. In many countries it is linked to education, as here, to health, to culture, to welfare and even to tourism, to communications and even to regional development; in Switzerland it is located in the Ministry of National Security and Civil Defense, heaven help us.

There is no minister and there is no separate ministry in Austria, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Holland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Australia, South Korea and of course the United States. These are but a few examples. In France they combine "Youth and Sport."

And where is there a minister of sport? In some developing and undeveloped countries - in Africa, Asia and South America; in some of the countries of Eastern Europe, which received their ministry of sport as a legacy from their Soviet uncle and the Iron Curtain era, and in a few countries where the regime is still totalitarian and oppressive. Were the leaders of the initiative and its promoters in this country trying to hint something about the nature of the regime here and about its level of development? Heaven forfend.

And to tell the truth, the timing of the initiative, now, also looks strange. The last term was, for a change, good and promising. Although Limor Livnat (Likud) was a miserable education minister, as minister of sport she was pretty successful and even hung Olympic medals around her neck. Is there another sports minister anywhere in the world who has mounted the winners' podium in person?