Knesset Bill Seeks Lifelong Salaries for Olympic Medalists, as Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi Brings Home the Bronze (VIDEO)
A new bill brought before the Knesset proposes that the state pay what amounts to a monthly minimum-wage salary to any Israeli athlete who wins an Olympic medal, the Hebrew news site Walla reported on Wednesday, the day after judoka Yarden Gerbi brought home the bronze for the Jewish state.
The bill was initiated by four MKs — Oded Forer, Orly Levy-Abekasis, Hamad Amar and Robert Ilatov. The estimated cost to the Israeli taxpayer for the now seven Israeli Olympians – Yael Arad (judo); Arik Ze’evi (judo); Gal Friedman (windsurfing); Shahar Tzuberi (windsurfing); and Yarden Gerbi (judo) – would be about NIS 1 million (approximately $260,000) per year, and would come out of the Ministry of Sport and Culture budget.
“Olympic athletes devote their lives to sports, and sometimes sustain serious injuries that harm their careers at an early stage,” they explained in the proposal. “These athletes sometimes are thrown into the work force at a relatively late age, with no ability to support themselves. The bill proposes to award such athletes, who won Olympic medals, a monthly stipend equivalent to a minimum-wage salary.”
In exchange, the athletes in question will be required to engage in educational or sports-related activity one day a week, and the nature of that activity will be determined by the Sport and Culture Ministry.
“Yarden Gerbi brought honor to the country and serves as an ambassador of the spirit of sports,” said MK Forer. “We need to encourage athletes to win medals and achieve success, but we can only do that by securing their financial future. The goal is to prevent a situation in which athletes are forgotten and forced to leave Israel in search of employment, exactly as happened with [Olympic kayak contender] Michael Kalganov.”
On a lighter note, Walla’s Paz Chasdai, reporting from the games in Rio, discussed Gerbi’s Tuesday win by analyzing the Israeli mind frame. “A soccer-playing country obsessed with judo is a country that’s gone a bit crazy,” wrote Chasdai. “When treating judo like the national sport…when the main evening news broadcast is interrupted to report on it, when the president and prime minister phone [to congratulate Gerbi]…one senses that it goes beyond a connection to judo.”
“In other words,” he wrote, “of course, Israel has a very impressive record of successes in judo, especially in comparison to other sports. And, of course, judo is the sport that provided the country with the most Olympic medals…But the obsession with judo over the past four days has nothing to do with judo…It is more a love of success, and the pursuit of pride. After all, there were the days when windsurfing was the obsession…In any case, this is not a complaint; it’s better than nothing; successes are always fun. But it would be nice if we were watching four straight days of a slightly more aesthetic sport.”
Watch BBC footage of Gerbi pointing to the Israeli flag on her jacket and jumping into the arms of doting fans: