Israeli Athletes, It's Time to Strike

The state ignores them, the public isn't interested, and they can't make ends meet. The Olympic athletes must go on strike. They've got nothing to lose.

Ilan Goldman
Ilan Goldman
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Ilan Goldman
Ilan Goldman

The State of Israel has no need for athletes or sports, aside from soccer and basketball. The country must deal with security threats and a volatile economic situation, and its international reputation is about as bad as it gets. None of Israel's decision-makers want to waste resources on "nonsense" like sports when we're teetering on the brink of existential abyss. Such is the discourse here; such is the perceived situation.

The national spin determines the allocation of the state's resources. While some sectors enjoy excessive benefits – often for unjustified political reasons – athletes find themselves at the bottom of the priority list and have no choice but to take on odd jobs that seriously interfere with their training. The state chooses to completely ignore the enormous potential of marketing athletes internationally as a reflection of Israel's saner and more moderate side. It sends them out to beg for help from other sources, and also takes advantage of the fact that there is nobody to represent or defend the athletes.

The majority of the public is unaware of the fact that Israel's senior Olympic athletes live off a monthly salary of NIS 5,000. Most must borrow money from their parents, friends or anyone willing to take out their wallet and help. Outstanding athletes are offered bunks at Wingate Institute, which the state believes helps them by saving them money on rent. Two men in their late 20 sharing a room apparently doesn't sound inappropriate to state officials.

And what about the athletes who are not yet part of this wonderful national program? Until they meet the impossible criteria for receiving money from the Elite Sports Department, they must work as security guards, waiters, garbage collectors, movers, janitors (all actual examples from the world of Israeli sports).

Sadly, none of this is about to change in the foreseeable future. The decision-makers in Israel will continue to ignore athletes – and they are not alone. The public, too, is to blame for this situation. Most Israelis don't take interest in any sports except soccer, and any junior sports journalist will tell you that that few people are interested in stories dealing with windsurfers, high jumpers, cyclists or runners. It’s a simple equation: You don't read about them, the newspapers leave the stories out, and the athletes lose. Until you begin to broaden your horizons and read about the athletes who represent you, no sane editor will make them the top story.

Still, the responsibility doesn't rest solely with the state or the public. Those most responsible for the sad state of Olympic sports are the athletes themselves. For years they have held to a code of silence, afraid to lose the few coins hurled in their direction. Precious few are willing to speak out against the system that crushes them every month, that for years has been selling them illusions and dreams that will never come true.

Dear athletes, until you organize and decide to take your future into your own hands, there won't be any money, nothing will change, and you'll continue to find yourselves in the same situation. If you care for the future of sports in Israel, if you care for your personal future, you must go on strike. The Israeli Track and Field Championships are scheduled to begin in a few days. Boycott it. Learn from the basketball players; watch what the professional tennis players do. Stop being suckers. You've got nothing to lose and much to gain. Fight, because nobody else will fight for you.

If strikes are a means to battle against unjust terms, and if the goal of a strike is to improve working conditions and to pressure employers, then you have absolutely no choice. Athletes are treated unjustly. At present, the athletes are the only ones with the power to pressure their employer and to force that employer to change its priorities. Even if this employer is the state.

Israel's flag bearer Shahar Zubari leads the contingent in the athletes parade during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games July 27, 2012. Credit: AP

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