After seven years of splits, friction and interruptions, the much-talked-about Olympic swimming pool at the Wingate Institute was completed a week ago. It is the first pool in Israel to be built according to the high standards of the International Swimming Federation. It has ten lanes 50 meters long, is 25 meters wide and three meters deep. The pool used for Israeli competitions and training since 1971 is finally about to be replaced.
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But the celebrations are premature.
“Just a moment — don’t congratulate us yet. We can’t train there, and it looks like we won’t be able to for the near future,” Olympic swimmer Gal Nevo wrote on his Facebook page last Sunday. Like his teammates on the Israeli swim team, Nevo tried to understand why.
“The answers are varied, and it depends on whom you ask. As far as I understand it, the bottom line is that the Wingate Institute is upset with the International Swimming Federation, which is upset with the Sports Administration. And here’s the outcome: we’re not allowed to swim there. So three weeks before the World Championships, we’re swimming in the old, outdated tub."
Simon Davidson, chairman of the Hapoel Netanya Dolphin swim club, which is also supposed to use the pool, said that the Israel Swimming Association is supposed to hold a marathon meeting over the weekend in preparation for the Maccabiah. "The actual competitions will be held there," he said. "The fire department will issue them a temporary license that requires them to place a tank for firefighting purposes near the pool, but that will only happen during the competition. The question is what will be as far as training.”
With the Maccabiah games beginning in a week and a half, Israel Swimming Association officials are worried. “The pool has no licenses. Nobody is allowed to swim there,” said the chairman, Noam Zvi. He said the association is doing everything it can.
"We contacted the Netanya municipality directly," he explained. "A lot of things still haven’t been installed there, like chairs or a sound system. We organized a test competition for Friday. We want to see the electronic timer working, the diving boards in place and that the judges know where to stand. I still don’t know whether the competition is going to take place.”
Officials of the Wingate Institute say they are optimistic about meeting timetables, and have said that the Swimming Association’s competition and other events will be held in the new pool. Dr. Ruth Pilz-Burstein, the head of the Wingate Institute, added, “We have received most of the licenses. We’re in daily contact with the proper agencies at the municipality to resolve the last remaining things and are doing everything we must to complete the process by this weekend.”
But things will not be resolved even after the pool is inaugurated. It turns out that the pool, which cost NIS 91 million to build, still has no air conditioning or sound system.
“It’s not the Swimming Association, but Wingate, that we blame,” says swimmer Guy Barnea. “The Association did everything it could to make sure that the pool could host large competitions such as the European championships and the world championships, but they made a lot of mistakes in the construction and the basics are missing. The Maccabiah competition will be held there as a one-off, since the Maccabiah will be providing the sound system, but the Association is fighting to get everything organized before the pool starts being used, because right now it can’t host competitions.”
An official at Wingate commented, “The pool was built according to the highest standards to host international competitions. The claims that have been made here are groundless. The air conditioning infrastructure was built for roughly NIS 9 million. When a funding source is found, the air conditioning will be installed. A sound system is a mobile item that can be brought in.”
The pool’s construction cost the Toto lottery association and the Wingate Institute a great deal of money. Now it will cost the Swimming Association and Hapoel Netanya a great deal, too. “Wingate serves the athletes, but it is the most expensive place in Israel to rent a basketball court, soccer field or pool. Associations can’t train there,” Davidson says. “One lane of the new pool costs NIS 240 per hour — twice as much as the old pool. Wingate gets funding from the Sports Ministry. They built a national pool in the State of Israel, and nobody can use it.”
Officials of the Wingate Institute commented, “The purpose of the support from the Culture and Sports Ministry is to enable the existing prices. The use of the pool costs what it costs. There’s a distinction between teams and private associations, and the subsidy is for the teams.”
Either way, the swimmers will have to train for the world championships in the old pool. When will they be able to train in the new pool? We’ll have to wait and see.