Would-be Israeli Handball Star Falls Victim to the Authorities' Apathy

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Eyal Keren could have been a leading player in European professional handball. At 1.90 meters, 90 kilos and with his high intelligence, the 31-year-old had everything it takes to play in the best leagues, earn 100,000 euros a year and help Israel's national team battle for a place at the Rio Olympics.

But Keren never had a chance to realize his talent. In the middle of the season he was sitting at home considering retirement – until Hapoel Rishon Letzion called. His wages, well, if there's an exact opposite of 100,000 euros, that's what Keren earns. Still, he agreed to join Hapoel for the rest of the season.

Yes, Keren could have been a leading European player. If he had had good coaches with Hapoel Petah Tikva's youth teams, he would have practiced twice a day six days a week, received advice on his diet and lifestyle, and would have been exempted from serving in the Israel Defense Forces. And he would have made a living from handball. All his physical and mental advantages could have been realized.

But Keren isn't a leading European player. There are wonderful people in Rishon Letzion and Petah Tikva who love handball, but without proper investment and vision, without the necessary infrastructure, young players don't have a chance to realize their potential, especially if they don't get decent wages in the Israeli league. So now Keren, a financial planner in Tel Aviv, has plenty of time to think about what could have been.

Still, even if Keren had overcome the obstacles in Petah Tikva and Rishon Letzion, he would have been defeated by the officials in Jerusalem. Yes, Israeli governments have taken a serious interest in sports. But no sports minister has seriously tried to increase the number of young athletes receiving professional training. There have never been plans to improve the coaching.

No Education Minister has pushed plans to let schools discover and nurture promising athletes. No government has built up a sufficient sports infrastructure. Keren's career passed by without any change in the conditions that prevented him from fulfilling his potential.

On Tuesday night, Keren played for Hapoel Rishon Letzion in the cup final against Maccabi Rishon Letzion. He came up against two Romanian players, Iulian Strat and Philip Marian, who enjoyed professional guidance since they were kids, including excellent coaches and six days of practice a week. It's no wonder Maccabi won the cup. Keren never had a chance.

A player on the Israeli handball team.Credit: AP

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