Lawsuit Shakes Up the Israeli Rhythmic Gymnastics World

Association representing disgruntled competitor rebuffs attempt to make her fight for spot at European Championships in Israel this summer, dragging in country's only medal hopeful.

Uri Talshir
Uri Talshir
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Israel's Neta Rivkin competing using the hoop
Israel's Neta Rivkin competes using the hoop in the individual all-around gymnastics final match at the Wembley Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games, August 11, 2012. Credit: Reuters
Uri Talshir
Uri Talshir

A dispute is shaking up Israel’s only championship team headed to Rio this summer in a dispute that has led to legal action by one of Israeli rhythmic gymnastic’s top competitors that drags in the country’s sole Olympic medal hopeful.

The Petah Tikva gymnastics association, the home club of Victoria Filanovsky, filed suit on Sunday against the Israel Gymnastic Association over who will fill Israel's rhythmic gymnastic spots at the European Championships in Holon this June.

The story begins in Minsk, where the European championships took place last May. Neta Rivkin (who came in sixth in the all-around competition) and Filanovsky (10th) assured two places for Israel at the Holon compeition. In between, the World Championships in Stuttgart last September provided an opportunity for competitors to punch their ticket to Rio de Janeiro. Going into the competition, the Israeli team thought that those gymnasts who won 1st to 15th place would automatically get a place in Brazil, while those ranked 16-24 would get another chance to win a place at a subsequent test event.

However, the Israelis learned to their shock in Stuttgart that the qualification method had been changed for the 2016 Olympics. While the first 15 finishers would indeed go to Rio, those in spots 16-24 would only get a second chance if no other gymnast from their country finished in the top 15. In the end, Rivkin placed seventh in the all-around, while Filanovsky finished 21st. Thus Rivkin is to be Israel’s only individual competitor in Brazil, alongside the Israeli team. Filanovsky’s personal coach, Natasha Osmolov, whom the IGA blames for not having the correct information about the procedures at Stuttgart, was removed as a result as chairman of the IGA’s professional committee.

There was another Israeli competitor at Stuttgart, Linoy Ashram, 16, who was only entered in some of the events but performed quite well. At the meeting of the professional committee on December 1, the two places Israel had won for the Holon meet in Minsk were discussed. Because those places are awarded to a country, not to individuals, the fact that Rivkin and Filanovsky had reached the top 10 does not necessarily mean they get those spots.

The professional committee decided that Rivkin, Israel’s top gymnast who had begun training for Rio, would be assigned one of the places, but that Filanovsky and Ashram would have to vie for the remaining place in two test events – the World Cup event in Pesaro, Italy, and the Israeli championship. Filanovsky and her club were livid, and the result is an appeal being filed against the IGA before the sport’s top tribunal, in which the decision is described by the petitioners as “a discriminatory and offensive decision, which does Filanovsky an injustice that screams to the heavens.”

The lawsuit asserts that Filanovsky is at least Israel’s No. 2 gymnast, and that the decision to force her to compete against a relative newcomer for a spot in the European Championships is insulting and frustrating.

But the lawsuit goes further. It claims Rivkin should also be forced to compete for a spot in Holon, arguing that the “fact that Rivkin is meant to compete in the Olympics isn’t enough to assure her an automatic entry to the European Championships." Rather, the petitioners assert, "the choice of Rivkin for the Olympics was not based on a ‘sporting test’ against other gymnasts, but due to her personal achievement in the World Championships.” If the basis for automatic inclusion at Holon is personal achievement, the appeal argues, then Filanovsky’s performance in Minsk should snag her Israel’s second spot without having to compete against Ashram.

The timing of the suit is no coincidence. The first test event at which both Filanovsky and Ashram are meant to compete is this coming weekend in Pesaro.

Israel’s Olympic officials said they were shocked and appalled that in an effort to secure Filanovsky a spot in Holon, the Petah Tikva club was willing to take a swipe at Rivkin, and put at risk her participation in the European Championships, which is part of her preparation for the Olympics.

“Neta is Israel’s leading gymnast and has set the standard of a third straight Olympiad, a rare achievement for any sportsman and for a rhythmic gymnast in particular,” said Danny Oren, who heads the competitive sports division of the Olympic Committee of Israel. “The European Championships in June were set as a very important preparatory competition for Rio, and her participation is practically obligatory. I give her full backing; as far as I’m concerned she’s totally not involved in this.”

The IGA commented: “It was decided that Filanovsky and Ashram would compete in two test events and let the best person win. We are doing the maximum to assure that the competition will be equitable and fair. As for Rivkin, it was decided unanimously that she is not involved in this competition; this was clear because she’s the leading gymnast and the one who met the criteria for the Olympics.”

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