For the first time in 20 years, the Israeli Olympic team is expected to end the summer games without even one medal.
The outcome is surprising for athletes and fans alike, as Israel was predicting a possible three medals heading into the games. A $5.6 million budget was issued to that end, the highest the Jewish state has ever put forward for an Olympic tournament.
In response, Israel’s sports and culture minister Limor Livnat announced Wednesday that a committee will be formed to examine what went wrong, and what can be altered for 2016’s games in Rio de Janeiro.
“We didn’t reach our goals, so it is definitely a failure,” said Efraim Zinger, secretary-general of Israel’s Olympic committee. “But looking at the larger perspective, we have to ask ourselves a real question: What is the place of sports in Israel?”
“I have great esteem for all of the athletes on Israel’s team. Every one of them worked hard and put in the greatest effort in order to win a medal, and for that the Israeli public and I are thankful,” Livnat said. “Although we did not win a medal, some of the athletes had impressive accomplishments and showed incredible capabilities in competing against their rivals.”
Some commentators have argued that Israel does not put enough investment in its sporting culture. Eran Soroka, a writer for Israeli newspaper Maariv, said, “Israel has decided that it doesn’t want to be a sporting nation.”
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson wrote the chairwoman of the Knesset’s education, culture and sports committee, Einat Wilf, a letter on Tuesday night, promoting the idea of a meeting to “discuss the failures of our team and examine possible ways to prevent an additional embarrassment in the 2016 Olympics.”
“The lack of government investment in sport is a continuing injustice, which the public realizes every four years when time after time Israeli athletes fail in different competitions,” he wrote. “We need a discussion in the committee in order to decide what steps can be taken to change the current worrying and painful reality of Israeli sports.”
The meeting is set to take place in September, and will include athletes, members of the Israel Olympic Committee and members of the Finance Ministry.
The reality of Israel’s empty handed summer came Tuesday when windsurfer Lee-El Korsiz—who went into her final race ranked second—finished sixth overall. Korsiz was seen as the Jewish state’s last chance for a medal, drawing tears from the athlete as she realized she would not be stepping up to the Olympic podium.
“It takes a special talent to miss out on a medal like this, especially as I was one of the leaders during the week. I am sorry I disappointed everyone. I tried, and it's a shame that yet another Israeli athlete has failed. But here I am, proud to hold our flag and in sixth place."
She added: "I did everything to represent my country with honor. I wanted to make everyone happy, but it didn't work out. I wanted to be up on the podium, but I think I deserved it. Of course I'm disappointed, but that's the way it goes in sports. I hope that everyone will appreciate that I did my best for the country."
Gili Lustig, the team’s professional manager, didn’t mince words in summing up the games.
"Of course this is a failure,” he said. “We are disappointed and it's clear we didn't meet our goals. Even in two of our best sports — judo and sailing — we came home empty handed. This was a high-quality delegation of 37 athletes who deserved at least one medal."
Israeli Olympic Committee head Zvi Warshaviak has seen public calls for his termination as a result of the poor showing, an argument he didn’t wholly rebuke.
“The athletes received everything they needed, yet we still had no success,” Warshaviak said. “Perhaps the time has come for me to go home.”