Saving Olympic Sports in Israel

The resignation of Zvi Warshaviak as head of Israel's Olympic Committee could mark a turning point for sports in the country.

People like Zvi Warshaviak are exactly the type that made the Hebrew term “askan” (politico, wheeler-dealer) into something so despicable in the eyes of the public. This is the man about whom jurists, including the OCI’s own legal advisor, said, “His conduct was stained by a grave conflict of interests that do not correlate with moral integrity.”

When he was a director of the Sports Betting Board with ties to the Nes Tziona municipal corporation Warshaviak chose, as a member of the city’s stadiums committee, to build a stadium in the city. He bears partial responsibility for an incident some years ago when traces of silicon were detected in milk processed by Tnuva Food Industries. And the fact that his brother Ra’anan Warshaviak heads a professional sports organization (Israel Gymnastics Association) adds a sour smell to the air.

As head of the OCI Warshaviak has done a few good things as well. He was outstanding at fund-raising, which is no small matter, and the mantle of support surrounding Olympic athletes nowadays is many times better than in the past. Warshaviak treats each European championship medal as if he had earned it himself, while at the same time proclaiming, “Had we returned from London with a medals that doesn’t mean there is sport in Israel.”

He has enjoyed rare honor normally reserved for world figures, while taking pride in the fact that committee members flew – at public expense, it should be noted – only in tourist class. Warshaviak is not disconnected from reality – if only it was possible to solve things this way. He knows exactly how to exploit the archaic makeup of sporting bodies in Israel so as to have his cake and eat it too. Which is why he lists achievements at length while ignoring failures, and why he takes credit for successful projects and why he claims that cultivating sports is the government’s job, not the OCI’s – the opposite of what is written in the Olympic Charter.

Warshaviak’s departure is long overdue, but the question is whether it will change anything. When he mentions potential successors – Arie Zief, who fortunately for Israeli soccer was not elected Israel Football Association chairman, or Igal Carmi, another macher from the Maccabi movement – it’s clear that nothing can be expected to change.

If there is one sporting politico who deserves the job it is Israel Sailing Association head Yehuda Maayan, but he belongs to the Hapoel organization, which does not control a majority vote in the OCI.

Yes – these are still the conditions governing Israeli sport in 2013. Throughout the Western world it is accepted that the head of a country’s Olympic committee should be a public figure or businessperson of the highest caliber, or an outstanding former athlete whose abilities go beyond sports.

But here in Israel, people with proven achievements such as Zeev Bielski and other excellent candidates such as Yael Arad are disqualified. They say she doesn’t have experience, while Carmi, CEO and president of Tadiran Batteries, must teach her. In what way is Carmi better than Arad? Apparently only in what matters most, in being a clever operator.

To change the organizational structure of sport in Israel, or to turn Israel into a sporting powerhouse? Both are Herculean tasks. But the people who will vote in February for the new OCI head can begin with one small, great step: by not voting for another askan who gives Israeli sports a bad name.

GPO