Israeli Sports

Moving into the international arena.

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The team has won more than 45 Israeli titles, prompting a number of other clubs to try to pass measures to level the playing field. Efforts to enforce a salary cap have been unsuccessful. No other team has been able match Maccabi's wealth and, thus, its ability to sign top talent. However, to try to mollify anti-Maccabists, the league instituted a rule in 2006 that there must be at least two Israelis on the court at all times.

International Competition

Even with soccer and basketball's popularity, the most internationally successful individual Israeli athletes today are tennis stars. Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich have won 10 pro doubles tennis titles together and reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2003. Ram was the first Israeli to win a Grand Slam tournament, winning mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2006 and in the French Open in 2007. 

Most professional Israeli tennis players spent their formative years as students at the Israeli Tennis Center, a non-profit tennis education organization with 14 locations throughout the country. Many of the centers are in outlying development towns or poor neighborhoods--consistent with the ITC's goal of promoting social development.

In addition to gaining international prominence in tennis, Israel has recently begun a string of medal-winning performances at the Olympic Summer Games. Israel has competed in the summer Olympics since 1952, absent only in 1980, when they supported the US boycott of the Soviet Union.

In one of the greatest tragedies ever to befall an international sporting competition, Palestinian terrorists killed 11 members of the Israeli delegation at Munich in 1972. The games were postponed for a day following the massacre and more than 80,000 people attended the memorial service in their honor.

Israel won its first Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, when Yael Arad won a silver medal for women's half-middleweight judo and Oren Smadja won a bronze medal for men's lightweight judo. Israel finally struck gold in 2004 in Athens, as Gal Fridman finished first in sailing. It was the first time the Israeli flag was raised--and Hatikvah was sung--at an Olympic medals ceremony.

Israel has a much shorter history at the Winter Olympics, only beginning to send athletes to the games in 1988. The country has never sent more than five athletes to any Winter Games, and most have been figure skaters or ice dancers from the former Soviet Union.

Israel's varied sports history predates the State itself. The immigrants who settled the land brought rich religious and cultural traditions with them, as well as their own sports. Without a doubt, soccer still rules the land--just as it was when the first pioneers made aliyah more than a century ago. But as more and more Russians and Americans move to Israel, other sports, such as baseball and figure skating, are sprouting up and gaining popularity.

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Gabe Roth

Gabe Roth is a communications consultant in Washington, D.C. While living in Ashkelon in 2005, Gabe was introduced to the Israeli sports scene by a group of teenaged Ethiopian immigrants, who were all better at soccer than he.