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This is why Israel’s female athletes are so fierce

CM 14/09/2021


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At this summer’s Olympic Games, on two separate occasions, female Israeli athletes stood on the podium proudly to receive the medal they’d worked so hard to achieve. 
The first one was superstar Linoy Ashram, who won a gold medal in rhythmic gymnastics, and the second was Avishag Semberg, who won a bronze medal in taekwondo. The Israeli Tokyo Olympic delegation, in fact, was made up of many women athletes, including Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko, Shira Rishony, Nicol Zelikman, Lonah Chemtai, Omer Shapira and many more. 

 LINOY ASHRAM brought home the gold in rhythmic gymnastics. (credit: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES) LINOY ASHRAM brought home the gold in rhythmic gymnastics. (credit: LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

“This is the second time that more than half of the Israeli delegation to the Olympics consisted of more female than male athletes,” states Nurit Sharvit, who supervises the promotion of women in sports at the Culture and Sport Ministry. “And we’re not just talking about the number of athletes, but also quality. Our delegation of female athletes had a higher potential for winning medals. We had a respectable representation and an extremely nice number of triumphs.”

 AVISHAG SEMBERG took the bronze in taekwondo. (credit: FLASH90) AVISHAG SEMBERG took the bronze in taekwondo. (credit: FLASH90)

How do you explain that?
“The Olympic Committee in general, and its president Dr. Thomas Bach in particular, are staunch supporters of gender equality in all Olympic sports.”
According to Sharvit, the number of girls who choose to take part in sport is actually much lower than that of boys. “Despite the growth in this sector in recent years, there are still many fewer girls who are interested in professional sports,” Sharvit admits. “Of Israel’s 120 athletes, only 23% are women, and this disparity is even greater in fields such as soccer and basketball. Only 3% of Israel’s basketball players and 19% of its soccer players are women. In judo, however, there has been a significant change recently, probably due to Yael Arad’s great success, bringing the proportion of women in judo up to 33%. 
“According to a study carried out by Prof. Yossi Harel-Fisch of Bar-Ilan University that was initiated by the Culture and Sport Ministry, girls in grades 11 and 12 are only engaged in athletic activity in school half as much as boys are.”

 STHER ROTH-SHAHAMOROV won many track and field championships for Israel in the 1970s. (credit: FLASH90) STHER ROTH-SHAHAMOROV won many track and field championships for Israel in the 1970s. (credit: FLASH90)

How can we go about changing that reality?
“Well, we’re already actively engaged in the first stage, which is achieving success in the Olympics, such as we’ve seen with Avishag Semberg, Yael Arad, Yarden Gerbi and Linoy Ashram. This has encouraged many young girls in Israel to take sports more seriously. These women are incredible role models for our youth. When girls see Israeli women achieving such success, they feel immense pride and this stokes a desire in them to follow in the footsteps of these wonderful role models and strive for success. 
“It also affects parents, encouraging them to support their daughters’ involvement in athletic activity.”
According to Sharvit, the Culture and Sport Ministry is actively encouraging girls to engage in competitive sports. “Last year, Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper, ministry Director-General Raz Froelich and ministry sport director Ofer Bustan actively promoted women in sports and success in this field has become one of the ministry’s main goals,” she says. “The minister increased the budget for women’s sports significantly, in addition to communities in the periphery and for the disabled. You can see this in the funds being made available for Athena, the center for women’s sports at the Wingate Institute.”
Sharvit also noted that programs to prevent sexual assault have been put in place to protect the country’s girls and boys. “All of these efforts will help Israel advance in the field of competitive sports in the international arena,” she added. “I believe these improvements will lead to an increase in the number of girls who choose to engage in sports and bring home medals.”

 MEDALIST YAEL ARAD, a judoka, currently chair of the Sports Division of the Israel Olympic Committee. (credit: DONNY MERON) MEDALIST YAEL ARAD, a judoka, currently chair of the Sports Division of the Israel Olympic Committee. (credit: DONNY MERON)

Do you think this will be felt already at the next Olympic Games?
“Our achievements in the Tokyo games were excellent, and we are always striving to improve. I’m a big believer in women’s ability to achieve great goals,” states Merav Olejnik, active director of Athena. “In 2006, for example, women only made up 8.3% of Israel’s competitive athletes. Since then, we’ve made great strides to promote women athletes and to change the mindset in Israel. We have many plans, such as our new Athena Ambassador program, in which we are training 30 senior female athletes who will be available to give talks and offer demonstrations at schools and community centers around the country in an effort to inspire young girls to engage in sports – free of charge. 
“For example, in judo, we have the Athena League, in which 500 girls come to Wingate four times a year for training with Israel’s judo championship team. It’s absolutely incredible to see seven-, eight- and nine-year-old girls training with Yarden Gerbi. You should see the look on their faces when she shows them her Olympic medal. It’s very moving.”
According to Olejnik, just as important as convincing girls to compete is keeping them involved and motivated. “Research shows that 12- and 13-year-old children tend to give up sports they were involved in when they switch from elementary to middle school. Retention is the most important issue we need to focus on. 
“One of the reasons kids drop sports is peer pressure. Kids today want to be famous, they watch all these reality TV shows, and that’s why it’s so important for us to have ambassadors to go out and engage with kids and get them excited. This is why I believe we have such a high demand nowadays in judo, taekwondo and gymnastics.”
“When I began winning in championship matches and my name became well known in the Israeli press, a few sports club managers told me that the number of girls who signed up for sports rose dramatically,” recalls Shahar Pe’er, a retired tennis player who participated in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. “Seeing athletes who are successful in the international arena has an incredibly strong impact on girls and teens. They realize that the sky is the limit, that if they put their all into something they can achieve real success. 
“I loved hearing Linoy Ashram’s mom say that her win at the Olympics was just a bonus – that her daughter’s true success was overcoming all the difficulties and challenges they ran into along the way. That was the real win.”

 SHAHAR PE’ER played tennis in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. (credit: DONNY MERON) SHAHAR PE’ER played tennis in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. (credit: DONNY MERON)

What did it feel like to see all of Israel’s achievements in the most recent Olympic Games?
“The entire team was so successful – this proves that they’ve been doing great work. It’s amazing to see so many more women reaching the Olympics, and this isn’t just happening in sports. Women are now daring to succeed in other ways too, such as demanding fair pay.”
Esther Roth-Shahamorov, who won many championships for Israel in track and field in the 1970s, also sees the success of female Israeli athletes as a sign that the status of women is improving in Israel overall. “When I was young, women were excluded in many fields,” Roth-Shahamorov explains. “For example, girls were not allowed to compete in the triple jump, marathon, pole vault or hammer throw. In those days, they thought women were weak and would never succeed in these fields. Most people thought women should stay home and raise the kids. This view has thankfully changed over the years, and nowadays women can do anything they want, even become pilots. Today, women are able to use their abilities and talents to do whatever they are good at.”
“For over a decade, Israel’s Olympic Committee, together with the Culture and Sport Ministry and the Competitive Sport Division, has been working hard to cultivate the success of competitive athletes in Israel,” says medalist Yael Arad, currently chair of the Sports Division of the Israel Olympic Committee. “The establishment of Athena, the Council for the Advancement of Women’s Sports, together with the significant funding that comes with it, gave us a strong boost and is enabling Israel’s athletes and teams to invest larger sums than usual and build long-term projects.”

 NURIT SHARVIT of the Culture and Sport Ministry: Encouraging girls to follow in the Olympians’ footsteps. (credit: MAYA LEVI) NURIT SHARVIT of the Culture and Sport Ministry: Encouraging girls to follow in the Olympians’ footsteps. (credit: MAYA LEVI)

Can you provide an example?
“Sure. One of our greatest weaknesses has always been that girls drop out in their early teen years. We’ve been working really hard on this issue, and it’s received lots of attention at Athena and also from the Olympic Committee. We have been sending out lots of ambassadors and holding intensive training camps for girls and teens. This has been very helpful for retention and helping the girls to make the transition to more serious training.
“We had a team of 10 women at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which was led by Yarden Gerbi. Our goal was for one of our women athletes to come home with a medal, since we hadn’t won any since Barcelona,” Arad continues. “We also really wanted an award in a new category, which we achieved. We went to the Tokyo Olympics with an excellent team and lots of ambition. The final results were incredible, and this is so inspiring for our younger generation.”
Of course, funding is always hard to come by. “It’s not easy to be given the funding we need to really succeed, and the money isn’t always spread evenly between the men’s and women’s teams. There’s still work to do,” insists Olejnik. 

 MERAV OLEJNIK, active director of Athena. (credit: MAYA LEVI) MERAV OLEJNIK, active director of Athena. (credit: MAYA LEVI)

What are your projections for Israel’s team in the future?
“Our hope is that at the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris and the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles we’ll see great improvement. We are somewhat reliant upon the Education Ministry when it comes to changes on a sociocultural level. Our plan is to have physical education classes become a daily occurrence in public schools. Such a move would lead to significant change in people’s perception of the importance of athletic activity.” 
Translated by Hannah Hochner.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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