This week, nearly two months after the naval confrontation on the deck of the Mavi Marmara, an entirely different Turkish flotilla will arrive in Israel. Leading the flotilla is an Israeli, of all people.
During an unprecedented crisis in the relations between Israel and Turkey, it is surprising to find that the top coach of the Turkish national sailing team for International 420 Class sailboats is none other than Linor Kliger, 28, from Tel Aviv. On July 22, the sailors trained by Kliger are slated to arrive in Haifa in order to participate in the International 420 Class World Championships.
"You must separate between politics and sports," said Kliger on Saturday. "What I'm interested in now is leading the Turkish sailors to win medals. Unfortunately, they still can't win the championship, but they are making progress from competition to competition."
Kliger hails from a famous sailing family. Her brother, Gidi, represented Israel in the Athens Olympics (2004) and the Beijing Olympics (2008) in International 470 Class sailboats together with his sailing partner, Udi Gal.
Little sister Linor also made significant strides on the water. In 1998, she won the International 420 Youth World Championship and was later a member of Israel's national team.
"After I lost at the qualifiers for the Athens Olympics, I quit sailing and have since worked in coaching," she said.
At first, Kliger trained Israel's International 470 Class youth team, leading them to the silver (girls) and bronze (boys) in the European Championships. After this, Kliger changed her tack and started training Olympic women's windsurfing in Israel.
'No hostility'"Last year, when I was with the surfers at the European Youth Championship in Turkey, the chairman of the Turkish Sailing Federation contacted me and asked if I would be interested in helping out with their sailing team. I thought about it, and I responded that I would. Ever since, I have been training them," Kliger explained.
As the top trainer, Klifer is the figure responsible for putting together the training programs for the youth and adult teams for both men and women: "I did not give up residence in Israel. Four or five times a year, I travel to Turkey to accompany them in the training camps and competitions and give them points to work on. The rest of the year, there is a Turkish coach who trains them. Simultaneously, I continue training the Israeli women windsurfers."
How are you treated in Israel since the flotilla incident?
"I visited them during training held on June 19 ahead of the World Championships. This was my first meeting with them since the flotilla. They treated me wonderfully and there was no hostility. On the contrary, I think that specifically because they wanted to show that everything is okay, they made a special effort to show warm hospitality.
"In general, the managers of the Turkish Sailing Federation treat me like I'm their daughter. The Turkish athletes are so polite; I would never receive such respect in Israel. They never talk to me about politics, and whenever I come to Turkey, they always invite me to stay with their families.
"Despite the deterioration in relations between the countries, I never thought for a minute to leave their national team. I am convinced that the political situation will not overshadow this cooperation. I am a sportsmanlike professional, and this is what I care about in life," she explained.
This is why Kliger intends to throw her full support behind her Turkish trainees during the World Championships that will take place in Haifa.
The championships will be held over 10 days. Some 150 teams of the best sailors in the world will take part. The even is being organized by Haifa Municipality, the Haifa Sailing Club, and the Israel Yachting Association, together with the International 420 Class Association.
"Especially in a time when Israel finds itself isolated in many areas, we in Haifa are inaugurating the second international championship in a month, following the European Mountain Bike Championship that was held here. Beyond contributing to Haifa and sports, there is a significant contribution to the status of the State of Israel in the world," said Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav.
As an aside, as the Turks sail in Haifa Bay, they may be able to catch a glimpse of the Mavi Marmara anchored in the adjacent port.
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