There are only a few arenas in the world where citizens can proudly wear the colours of their country without accusations of overt patriotism. One is the battlefield, the other is the sports arena (we are yet to see Battle Royale extend outside of Japan). I, like many Israelis who were not keeping Shabbat, watched our men and women stride out into the arena under the watchful eyes of the world during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. Led by the energetic Shahar Zubari, sporting a nifty and Zionistic hairstyle for the evening, the team looked full of potential as they joined the community of nations under the auspices of the Olympics ideals: fair play and good sportsmanship. If only those ideals could be cherished by the MKs at home.
Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat announced yesterday that a committee of experts will be convened to investigate why Israel did not win any medals this year. In fact it’s the first time that Israel hasn’t won any medals since 1992 in Barcelona. Shocking I tell you. Israeli athletes won no medals. Of course a committee must be convened, at the public’s expense, to see where the fault lies. Never mind that these athletes worked every single day of their teenage and adult lives to get to this moment, never mind that 4am wake ups are common, not just in the army but also in professional sports, never mind that the joy they experienced marching in the ceremony and the loss that they felt at not placing must have been two extreme emotions that we can’t even begin to fathom. The idea that we need to form a Winograd-style Commission for our Olympic athletes says a lot about how we judge ourselves. If the Olympians can’t win a spot in the top three in the world, what then? Does that assumption migrate to other aspects of Israeli life? Does it mean that suddenly we can’t bomb Iran? Or we can’t make the desert bloom? Our we’re not No.2 on the NASDAQ and no longer be able to maintain our startup nation ethos?
No. The fact that our Olympians did not win any medal places was not because of failures in the system but because of many other factors that are beyond the realm of some Parliamentary committee. The fact is that Israeli athletes may not be the best in the world. After all, Israel did not win any medals until the 1992 Olympic Games but there were no Parliamentary committees formed in the wake of their losses to probe ‘what happened’. Perhaps MKs have become too addicted to winning?
Some nations are judged on their sporting prowess. Some people absorb their patriotism through their sportspeople. How proud is Jamaica of Usain Bolt today, yet tomorrow, when the crowds have gone home, where does Jamaica stand in the rankings of the Nobel Committee, the global Science and Arts establishment, the University and Cultural establishments? Currently China and America top the Olympic medal tally, but when the stadia are empty, the athletes go home and the television stations revert to normal schedules, how many nations of seven million people are punching above their weight? Israel is in the company of the majority of countries which failed to win medals in the Olympics, but she stands alone on the podium winning gold, silver and bronze in its scientific, cultural, and intellectual performances. Sure, sport is enjoyable, but it’s only one part of what makes a people great.
All that being said, though, perhaps there could be something we could learn from this? Perhaps more money needs to be invested into training programs, into sports arenas or into subsidizing costs for low-income households to enable their talented people to train? Perhaps this committee will eventually end up bringing some good to Israeli athletes. But the way that Limor Livnat went about it, while the athletes are still on foreign soil and their wounds still fresh, speaks more about her than about her idea. If she did truly want to form this committee then she should have welcomed the athletes, who have sacrificed so much to represent their country, home with open arms and say “better luck next time….I will make sure of it”.