Friday, December 18, 2009

State of Chess in Israel

As we all now know, of course, Israeli grandmaster Boris Gelfand won the World Cup. He defeated Pono with 7 points to five in the finals. As one might expect, the result made its way to the mainstream papers in Israel.

While Israel may possess one of the world's best players and a strong national side, you would think that chess gets some serious government backing. Actually, just like in Australia, it doesn't. And two writers lament this fact.

First, Eli Shvidler:
"The budget of the Israel Chess Federation doesn't exceed NIS 2 million," said federation director Yigal Lotan in a voice that seemed to betray a bit of embarrassment. He said the state's funding doesn't amount to a portion of the salary of an average player in Israeli soccer's Premier League. Without support from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, the chess scene here would have become truly catastrophic, he added.
Secondly, Eitan Bekerman, who wonders why chess is pushed to the sidelines:
The answer might lie, paradoxically, in the fact that chess is considered a "Jews' sport." The list of male and female Jewish champions may be as long as your arm, but our Sabra, the New Jew, is better off excelling at surfing, mastering a bow and arrow like the Maccabees, shooting a rifle, or kicking a ball. What do we have to do with Boris, a bespectacled Russian Jew untouched by the Mediterranean sun? Give us a Gal or Shahar or Yael or Arik.

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