Tennis / Break Point for Israeli Bureaucracy

Daniel Skripnik represents the future of local tennis but red tape has him stuck in the army.

requent meetings with bureaucrats generally leave one with a feeling of frustration and despair, and tennis player Daniel Skripnik has encountered this situation all too well over the past several months.

The 18-year-old is considered by many as Israel’s greatest promise: He is the Israel champion at just about every age level so far; he is ranked first in the country for his age; and he is a member of Israel’s national cadet team. Many people in the sport were waiting for the moment he would be awarded the status of outstanding athlete when he reached army age − yet it didn’t happen.

Daniel Skripnik.

Skripnik was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces in early December. A week later, a committee met to review requests for outstanding athlete status. Everyone in the Israel Tennis Association, including Skripnik, was certain the committee would approve the athlete’s request unanimously.

The association presented his credentials, which included four points on the ATP tour and a place among the top 100 Israeli tennis players. Four months previously, the committee had recognized Dor Belfer as an outstanding athlete, and he only had one ATP point. Instead, Skripnik was in for a rude surprise. The committee rejected his application and sent him to boot camp as a rank-and-file soldier.

Noam Bar, Israel’s Davis Cup coach, says the committee has amended its standards to unachievable levels. The committee, Bar adds, has since reverted to the old format but Skripnik fell between the cracks and suffered for it. “No one has his kind of resume at his age,” Bar says. “It’s illogical.”

A representative of the Sports Authority commented that the standards were never changed. The official said the reason for the rejection is that there were only 20 spots open − the limit of recognized outstanding athletes at any time is 400 − and the young tennis player was crowded out by the field of candidates.

Zelda Skripnik, Daniel’s mother, says with tears in her eyes that the family is in despair and doesn’t know what can be done. “Every day that passes hurts his career,” she says. “Daniel is thinking about deserting because nothing helps. He’s a good boy. He always follows the rules, but nothing helped. He also thought about fleeing the country.”

The young Skripnik got into tennis at the age of six almost naturally. His mother, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine 19 years ago, was a tennis player. She works as a tennis coach. Greta, his older sister by two years, also holds a racket.

Misplaced favor

Tennis officials in the country recognized his talent before he even had his bar mitzva. He transferred to a boarding school for gifted players at the tennis center in Ramat Hasharon. The singles and doubles titles weren’t long in coming. Officials in the tennis association began talking about him as the next generation of Israeli tennis. “We all hope that in a few more years Daniel will represent us in the Davis Cup,” Bar says. “He always stood out above the rest, and it’s hard to miss his talent.”

The IDF saga began in August. His request was supposed to be reviewed in August, but he dragged it out as a favor to his friend, Dor Belfer, according to Idan Dvir, Skripnik’s attorney. After the application was rejected, he requested a draft deferment from the head of the manpower branch, Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivay, which he says went unanswered.

Dvir says the bureaucratic indifference cost Skripnik an important competition in January, and his client is liable to miss an international tournament in March.

He added that if the army did not release Skripnik for this tournament, the teen would lose half his ATP points. “They’re just ruining his career,” Dvir commented.
Despite the appeals for help, the IDF assigned Skripnik to a course for prisoner counselors of the Military Police. Bar wrote the army that it should take Skripnik’s needs into account and allow him to compete because he lost valuable time over the previous two months, and that he is expected to receive the status of outstanding athlete in April. Shlomo Glickman, the former star and professional director of the Israel Tennis Association, also wrote an appeal to the army to put him back on track for outstanding athlete status. Neither appeal has made a difference yet.

“If they don’t release him soon it will severely harm his progress,” says his worried mother. “I just want them to take him into consideration and not to destroy his career. He’s broken and depressed by the situation. I fear he will do something desperate if they don’t compromise. We didn’t think it would come to this.”

Bar adds: “Everyone tried to help, but for the moment we’re just waiting for April. Until then, the child is paralyzed and hurt. Every day that passes hurts him more.”

The IDF commented: “The Sports Authority didn’t deem the soldier deserving of the outstanding athlete title, and subsequently he is not eligible for breaks requisite with the status. His commanders will weigh his requests accordingly with the needs of the role he fills and not through the press.”