An important factor in the success and development of Israeli sports is the Wingate Institute of Physical Education, the national sports center based in its own grounds close to the city of Netanya in central Israel. The institute includes an elite school for gifted young sports students, as well as the Department of Sports Medicine, a world leader in the field. The Council for Sporting Excellence, which determines which talented athletes will receive stipends to train full time, is also based at Wingate. Numerous Israeli sportsmen and women who have gone on to find success began their careers at Wingate, including Pe'er, Ram, and Erlich.
The Sports Authority of the Ministry of Science, Culture, and Sport sponsors the training of instructors and coaches at Wingate and oversees all sporting activity in Israel, coordinating the activities of the various sports federations and organizations and assisting in the development of programs.
Youngsters playing sports
Sports are of course not only for the outstandingly
gifted. A sporting culture developed from the early years of the state,
with youngsters encouraged to become involved in sports from a young age
to promote both fitness and healthy competitiveness. Each week hundreds
of thousands of young Israelis compete and play in sports ranging from
soccer and basketball to kayaking, sailing, and rock climbing.
A number of major sports organizations run a network of clubs around
the country as well as being affiliated to the major sports teams. The
most well known include Maccabi (established 1912), Hapoel (1923), Betar
(1924), Elitzur (1939), and the Academic Sports Association - ASA
(1953). Schools and community centers also run local leagues and
competitions with the national school basketball and soccer finals
broadcast on national television.
Sports as a hobby
Israel is a sporty nation. On any weekend visitors
will see groups of people playing basketball on outside courts in parks
around the country, going running in the streets, and playing soccer in
the parks. The beaches provide great opportunity for sports. Israel has
the highest per capita number of qualified scuba divers in the world,
with 50,000, attracted by the unique marine life of the Red Sea.
Windsurfing and water skiing are also popular as well as "paddleball", a
locally developed beach game played by keeping a ball in the air by
hitting it from paddle to paddle.
Away from the beaches, long-distance running is also high on the list
of popular sports, with thousands participating in the annual marathon
around Lake Kinneret in the North, beginning and ending in Tiberias, and
triathlon events. Cycling is also very popular and the golf course in
Caesarea is currently embarking on a redevelopment program. In the
winter Mount Hermon in the North has become a beacon for local skiers.
Other popular sports include table tennis, boxing, wrestling,
weightlifting, judo, karate, and a form of self-defense called Krav
Maga, developed by the IDF. Popular team sports include volleyball and
handball, which both have their own professional leagues.