Alex Gilady is probably the most powerful Israeli in international sport. He has been a member of the IOC since 1994 and has risen to be one of the most influential members. He has been on the Coordination for the Games Committee for every Olympics since Athens.
What is your first memory of the Olympic Games?
As a little boy, reading the newspaper reports of Israel’s team at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
Can you explain what the Games mean to you?
As the first Israeli member of the International Olympic committee (IOC), they mean a great deal.
More teams will be marching at the opening ceremony in London than there are members of the UN. The UN does not achieve success all the time, yet everyone expects the Games to go off without a hitch.
You’ve been to many Games – do you have a routine for what sports you see when?
In addition to my IOC duties, I also work with NBC and as such, I don’t have that much time to watch as many of the events as I would like. I try not to miss the track and field. Apart from that, I like to catch the basketball as well as some sailing.
How did you feel when Yael Arad won Israel’s first ever Olympic medal?
Wow! I was not at the Palau Blaugrana (judo venue at Barcelona) when it happened. Just like bad news, good news travels fast and I when I heard the news, it felt great – simply elated. It was a long time in the making, and it felt wonderful.
You had the privilege of presenting Gal Fridman his gold medal – can you describe what that meant to you?
A great, huge deal. Ahead of time, I had made enquiries about presenting the medals for the men’s mistral. On the day of the final race, Gal was in the gold medal position and at the minimum was assured a medal. So, that day I dressed in blue and white. I had white shorts, and a blue blazer. Every Israeli who was in Athens that day went down to the marina, so much so that it felt like Tel Aviv.
Israel obviously is in a delicate position on the global stage – how does that affect you and how do you deal with that?
I’m not representing Israel – I’m representing the IOC. It’s not easy and being Israeli is not easy. Still I uphold my commitments to the Olympics while doing the very best for my country. I try to find the right balance, but not everyone may see it that way. That ultimately is in the eyes of the beholder and something I can’t do anything about.
What’s it like to work so closely on the Games?
No project in the world is bigger than this. It is so huge, so complex, so difficult, so expensive, and so rewarding. I’m very proud to be part of it.
If there was anything about sports in Israel that you could change, what would it be?
It is much better than what people think and not as good as people would like.
Do you feel the Olympic ideals are violated when athletes withdraw from competing because of the nationality of their opponent?
If an athlete is injured and withdraws from competition, there is nothing that can be done about it. The IOC has sent a strongly worded letter to the Iranian Olympic committee to discussing this matter. Still there is very little that one can do.
You have been to many games – how have they changed over the years?
It is a huge event, much bigger, more organized, and more difficult to move around. Due to the events in Munich, a lot of security is present and spectators and athletes spend a lot of trying to wait get where they need and want to go.
In addition, full-time professional athletes participate in the games as opposed to the days when this was not allowed, yet you had Soviet and East-German pro athletes that were. The moment this changed, the door opened to allow the world to watch the best athletes in the world.
You said how Israel should plan to host the 2048 Games – do you still think that it possible? What has to happen for that to be a reality?
Israel can achieve anything it wants to do. For it to happen, it could only be 20 years after there was a peace.
The games of the future are going to be planned using temporary venues – in order to avoid white elephants after the games. For Israel to host the games, venues and infrastructure are the two main issues. The whole Gush-Dan area is one that is in desperate need of being developed, a massive project. You can only do it via winning the vote to host the Games. That gives the host country 7 years, as well as the money to do it with.
You are on the Coordination Commission for RIO 2016. It’s a long time way away, but how is it looking?
Rio is looking very good. They are busy building big projects; fixing the transportation system and the harbor. In addition the will be upgrading the airport and are even building a new city.
Alex, we hope that you will have the opportunity to present more Olympic Medals to Team Israel at London 2012.