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Saturday, October 10, 2015

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Israeli Olympic oddities and dreams

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The Olympics is serious business. Controversies abound. Athletes breaks records. And then there are the stories that don’t get their share of the headlines. Here are three, starting with Israel’s quest to find a mascot for its Olympic team.

The problems began when the Olympic Committee of Israel (OCI) unveiled “Shpitzik,” a smiling cactus-shaped torchbearer decked out in a natty blue-and-white tracksuit. Unfortunately, the folks at Israeli Educational Television felt that Shpitzik resembled their 1970s-era character, “Kishkashta.” (Imagine Bert – of the Muppet’s Bert and Ernie – except that he’s green and has cacti sprouting from his ears.) The matter was referred to the Tel Aviv District Court, which ruled in favour of veteran Kishkashta and put Shpitzik out of the running – literally. [http://bit.ly/jolymp45]

In a bid to find a successor to Shpitzik, Israel’s Olympic Committee then set its eyes on “Baby Bamba.” If you’ve ever dined on Bamba, Israel’s popular peanut-based snack food, you would have noticed a cartoon character on the package – a smiling, single-toothed baby bedecked in a diaper. Hand Baby Bamba a lit torch and – and have manufacturer Osem hand over an undisclosed fee – and presto, you have a new Olympic mascot. [http://bit.ly/jolymp46]

Public outcry over the commercial character’s new role forced the OCI to retire the baby character as an Olympic symbol. The result: Israel will have no mascot this summer – neither Shpitzik nor Baby Bamba – to inspire athletes to go Swifter, Higher, Stronger. [http://bit.ly/jolymp47]

Astute visitors to the “Israel” entry at the official London Olympics site will notice that the Middle Eastern country is located in “Europe.” [http://bit.ly/jolymp48] Puzzling since neighbouring “Palestine” is located in “Asia.” [http://bit.ly/jolymp49] I assumed the International Olympic Committee is not lacking a globe, atlas or Google maps, so I set out to crack this geographic mystery – which I did thanks to website eonotes.com.

“Between 1954 and 1974, Israel took part in the Asian Games, but political pressure exerted by Arab countries led to Israel’s exclusion from the re-organized Olympic Council of Asia in 1981. In the early 1990s, Israel was admitted into European sports organizations, and became full member of European Olympic Committees in 1994.” [http://bit.ly/jolymp50]

Could Israel ever find itself hosting the Summer Olympics? In 2000, three architectural students from Tel Aviv University proposed that their city consider hosting the games in the far-off year of 2012. Their idea was championed by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai but ridiculed by practically everyone else.

“People made sarcastic comments, asked weird questions and made negative comments,” supporter Rafi Peled told Ha’aretz. “Then they sat down, and by the middle of the presentation, the smiles had faded, and they were scratching their heads and looking bewildered, and finally they were just speechless. Then the smiles became genuine and everyone began talking, and they were saying, ‘It’s a smart idea, it’s possible, it’s a lovely dream.’” [http://bit.ly/jolymp51]

Obviously, “Project Tel Aviv 2012” never came about. But supporter Yossi Machtey knew it wouldn’t be easy: “It’s a dream, but the prospects for it happening are 100 per cent. The only question is when. Maybe there’ll be no Olympics here before my grandchildren’s time, but it will happen sometime or other. I don’t mind being Don Quixote.”


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