LONDON – The same complaints have been heard for years: Israeli sports are running slow, there's no budget for training and facilities, and athletes arrive at the Olympic Games exhausted.
But the future of Israeli Olympic sports may soon change, thanks to the generous contribution of multimillionaires from all around the world, who wish to help Israel's
young talents bring some honor to their country at the London 2012 games.
A first-of-its-kind fund was launched in London last week with the aim of raising funds to improve Olympic athletes' training conditions, in order to allow them to compete properly against athletes from all over the world.
The fund is headed by Ynon Kreiz, the outgoing CEO of media corporation Endemol, which owns the rights to the "Big Brother" format.
Kreiz is married to Anat Fabrikant, a former Olympic rower, and they live in London.
"As an Israeli living abroad for the past 20 years, it hurts me to always see Israel discussed in the context of wars and terror attacks. I wanted to shatter this distorted image," said Kreiz.
"In addition, my wife Anat, formerly a member of Israel's Olympic sailing team, told me how difficult it is being an athlete in Israel, due to the lack of budgets and facilities. An Israeli sportsman doesn't have the same starting point as his colleague in other countries.
"I thought that if we could raise funds for better training and advanced facilities, Israeli athletes would have a better chance of winning Olympic medals. They could show Israel's beautiful face."
With these goals in mind, Kreiz established a fund aimed at raising money in order to promote Israeli Olympic sports. The response was impressive.
The millionaires who volunteered to help and donate to the fund include Universal Music Chairman Lucian Grainge; Richard Desmond, the owner of Britain's Channel 5 and publisher of OK! magazine; Warner Music Chairman Lior Cohen; Goldman Sachs Vice Chairman Michael Sherwood; Jacob Rothschild, a descendent of the family of philanthropists; Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of NBC Universal; Howard Shore, president of the Shore Capital investment bank; Poju Zabludowicz, one of the richest Israelis in the world; and David Lowy, the owner of retail property group Westfield.
The list of donors includes a surprising face: An Arab millionaire seeking to contribute to Israel's efforts to win Olympic medals. According to Kreiz, some of the man's relatives were hurt in an operation involving the IDF, and yet he decided to help nonetheless.
"He decided that it was an important goal and became part of it, of course without anyone knowing about it," said Kreiz.
One of the planned projects is the "adoption" of an Israeli Olympic athlete by some of the millionaires, who will support him or her throughout the training and games period. The direct connection will hopefully help the athletes bring Israel a gold medal.
One of the donors has already decided to adopt boxer Yousef Abdelghani, who he met in London for the first time recently.
The new fund will operate in collaboration with the Israeli Olympic Committee, although it is not affiliated with it.
The fund was launched recently in a festive event at the home of Jewish-Russian billionaire Len Blavatnik in London's prestigious Kensington Palace Gardens neighborhood.
During the event, the donors got to mingle with leading Israeli athletes, including artistic gymnast Alexander Shatilov, rhythmic gymnast Neta Rivkin, high jumper Danielle Frenkel and boxer Yousef Abdelghani.
"Our goal is to see Israel succeed in the Olympics and win many medals," said Kreiz. "Listening to the sounds of Hatikva while one of our own athletes stands on the podium – there's no greater sense of pride."