Sport in Israel

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Israeli rowing in the international arena. Photo by Detlev Seyb
Israeli rowing in the international arena. Photo by Detlev Seyb
Shahar Pe'er, winner of Israeli tennis championship, 2008
Juniors rowing at the Daniel Rowing Centre, Photo by Nir Keidar

Sport in Israel plays an important role in Israeli culture and is supported by the Ministry of Culture and Sport. The most popular sports in Israel are Football and Basketball. Israel is an international center for Jewish sport around the world and since 1932 the Maccabiah Games, an Olympic-style event for Jewish athletes, is held in the country. Despite Israel's location in the Asian continent, the Israeli sports associations in various sports belong to the European associations due to the refusal of many Arab Asian countries to compete with Israeli athletes.

The government's support and budgeting of sports in Israel is relatively low in comparison to other western countries. However, many Israeli athletes and teams managed to gain international success. The Israeli national basketball team has won 2 gold medals in the Asian Games and 1 silver medal at the European Championship, and basketball club Maccabi Tel Aviv is considred one of the best teams in Europe with 6 European titles. The Israeli national football team has won the AFC Asian Cup and the Israel Davis Cup team reached the semifinal of the 2009 Davis Cup. At the Olympic Games, Israel has won 9 medals.

Major sports[edit]


Football (soccer, כדורגל, Kaduregel) is the most popular sport in Israel. The sport is under the jurisdiction of the Israel Football Association. It joined the Asian Football Confederation in 1954, but was expelled in 1974 due to political pressure from Arab and Muslim members in the context of the Arab–Israeli conflict. It was admitted to UEFA as an associate member in 1992 and as a full member in 1994, therefore their teams compete as part of Europe in all international competitions.

The matches that draw the largest crowds are those of the Israeli Premier League. In 1967, Hapoel Tel Aviv became the first club to win the Asian Club Championships. In the 2001–02 UEFA Cup Hapoel reached the quarter-finals after knocking out Chelsea, Lokomotiv Moscow and Parma.

Israeli teams were also qualified five times to the UEFA Champions League group stage, including Maccabi Haifa in the 2002–03 and 2009–10 seasons, Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2004–05 and 2015–16 seasons and Hapoel Tel Aviv in the 2010–11 season.

The Israel national football team hosted and won the 1964 AFC Asian Cup and qualified for the 1970 FIFA World Cup, which was held in Mexico. Mordechai Spiegler scored in a 1-1 draw against Sweden. Israel's Olympic football team qualified for the 1968 Summer Olympics and the 1976 Summer Olympics both times reaching the quarter finals. Israel's highest FIFA ranking was 15th in November 2008.

Famous matches of the Israeli football team include the 3–2 win in France in the 1994 world championship qualifying games, which ended up disqualifying the French team from the championship in the United States, the defeat of Austria 5–0 in 1999 during Euro 2000 qualifications, and a 2–1 win over Argentina in a friendly match in 1998, a game played in Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.

Successful Israeli players who also played outside Israel include Eli Ohana, Giora Spiegel, Ronny Rosenthal, Avi Cohen, Eyal Berkovich, Haim Revivo, Dudu Aouate and Yossi Benayoun.

Notable Israeli players have included:


Basketball (כדורסל, Kadursal) is the second most popular sport in Israel. Hapoel Jerusalem, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv dominate the domestic league and are among the top teams in Europe. Maccabi Tel Aviv has won the European championship 6 times, in 1977, 1981, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2014. Hapoel Jerusalem won the Eurocup in 2004.

The Israel national basketball team has participated 23 times in the European Championship. Their best achievements were a silver medal in Eurobasket 1979, and 5th place in 1953 and 1977. The national team also played in two World Championships and once in the Summer Olympic Games.

Casspi, playing for Israel in 2010

Israeli basketball is known for its national under-20 team, winning silver medals twice, in 2000 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship and 2004, and finishing 4th twice (1994, 2005), 5th (1992), and 6th (2007). Israel U-20 also took place in the U-21 World Championship, finishing twice in 7th place (2001,2005), and 6th place (1993).

Israeli player Omri Casspi currently plays for the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA. Gal Mekel, previously played in the NBA and Shay Doron previously played in the WNBA.[18] Other notable Israeli basketball players have included:


Swimmer Guy Barne'a

Israel Swimming Association is the major swimming federation in Israel. Swimming is popular in Israel's many beaches along the Mediterranean coast, the Sea of Galilee, in the Red Sea at the shores of Eilat, in the Dead Sea and in swimming pools. Famous Israeli swimmers include Eithan Urbach, Michael Halika, Gal Nevo, Yoav Gath, Yoav Bruck, Vered Borochovski, Amit Ivry, and Anna Gostomelsky. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Israel's team qualified to the final of the prestigious Men's 4 x 100 metre medley relay. Uri Bergman won 12 gold medals at the Paralympic Games, and other paralympic swimmers such as Izhak Mamistvalov and Keren Leibovitch won several gold medals as well.


Rowing is a growing sport in Israel, and has seen a major breakthrough in recent years. Dani Fridman, Israel Champion, is currently ranked 10th in the world, and Moran Samuel is Israel’s 1st rowing world champion[23] (paralympic). Samuel, won her first Paralympic bronze medal, after coming 3rd at the Rio 2016 Summer Paralympics. Other Rio 2016 participants are Yulia Chernoy and Reuven Magnagey, who rowed together in a double scull boat and finished 9th.

Moran Samuel, World Champion, Photo By Detlev Seyb

The Daniel Rowing Centre in Tel Aviv is Israel’s prime training facility, and the home of the national Olympic and Paralympic squad. The sport is practiced in Tel Aviv Yarkon River, Kishon Port of Haifa and Tiberius Sea of Galilee.

Other prominent athletes are Oleg Gonorovski, Tomer Shvartsman, Roni Iuster and Diana Egerton-Warburton.

The Israeli Rowing Federation is an active member of the International Rowing FederationFISA.


Israel Davis Cup Team, 2009

Highly ranked players include Shlomo Glickstein (world ranked #22 at his peak), Amos Mansdorf (ranked #18 at his best), Dudi Sela (ranked #29 at his best), Anna Smashnova (ranked #15 at her best), Shahar Pe'er (ranked #11 at her best) as well as the doubles team of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich (world #5 team in 2006 and 2008 Australian Open champions) - all of whom have trained at the Israel Tennis Centers. Since 2008, both men's and the women's teams have qualified for the top groups in the world - the men are in the Davis Cup world group, and the women are in the Fed Cup world group I. In December 2012, 12-year-old Yshai Oliel of Ramla, Israel, won the 51st Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship for his age group.[24]

Track and field[edit]

Track and field athletics in Israel are mainly focused around the Maccabiah Games and the international Olympic Games, where Israel has achieved notable successes during its short history. The Soviet-born Aleksandr Averbukh is by far the most successful Israeli track and field athlete, having won three gold medals in the pole vault at European championships (2000 — indoor, 2002 and 2006) as well as two medals at the World championships (1999 and 2001).


Long distance running is popular in Israel. The Tel Aviv Half Marathon, the Jerusalem Marathon and the Mount Tabor Run take place annually in March.[25] Another half marathon is held annually at Ein Gedi, near the Dead Sea.[26] In 2011, Jerusalem hosted Israel's first international marathon in which 10,000 runners participated (full marathon, half marathon, and 10K).[27] In March 2012, over 15,000 runners took part in the second annual Jerusalem marathon.[28]


Chess match in Arad

While chess, as an intellectual sport, has always been played in Israel, the arrival of large numbers of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s brought many chess grandmasters to Israel and increased interest in the game. Boris Gelfand is the 2009 World Cup winner.

Minor sports[edit]

American football[edit]

The center of American football in Israel is the Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem. Currently, there are 4 leagues playing Flag Football. The WAFI which has 13 teams: high school level which has 12 teams and a youth team, all under the association of The AFI.[29] There're also 3 leagues playing tackle-football: a junior high football league (which has donated equipment), a high school league - IHFL[30] and an adult's league - IFL[31] (Israeli Football League). The IFL has 11 teams coming from Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba and Ramat HaSharon. The game is mainly played by ex-pats from America, South Africa, England and France. The largest league in 2007 was men's contact who competed in the annual Holyland Bowl championship. Some 1000 players are involved in weekly football activities.[32]

In 2015 the Israel national American football team had their first international game, in the qualifier for the European Championship.[33]


Baseball was first introduced into the country on July 4, 1927, when baseball equipment was distributed at the Sephardic Orphanage in Jerusalem.

The Israel Baseball League, managed by Larry Baras, was established in 2007.[34] It was the first professional baseball league in the Middle East. In its first and only season it had six teams that played in three stadiums. The first and only champions were the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox managed by Ron Blomberg.

The Israel national baseball team applied, unsuccessfully, to participate in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. They were subsequently invited to participate in the newly created qualifying round of the 2013 World Baseball Classic. During the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifier Israel qualified for the main tournament and finished in sixth place.


In Israel, boxing is not just a sport but an educational vehicle for helping young people overcome prejudices. The Israel Boxing Association (IBA) operates certified gyms in cities throughout the country, with 1,800 active members from Arab villages and Ethiopian and Russian immigrant population centers. Boxers as young as 11 train and participate in matches organized by the association. Israeli Yuri Foreman is a former World Boxing Association super welterweight champion.[35] Roman Greenberg is currently International Boxing Organization's (IBO's) Intercontinental heavyweight champion. Hagar Finer is the WIBF champion bantamweight.[36]

Adi Rotem of Tel Aviv is the current world champion in Thai boxing in the under-52 kilogram class.[37] Ilya Grad is considered one of the eight best amateur Thai boxers in the world.[38] In February 2012, Grad won the WCK international title in China and was permitted to enter Malaysia, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel, on an Israeli passport.[39] Ido Pariente is an Israel lightweight Pankration World Champion.


Michael Kolganov, a Soviet (Uzbek)-born Israeli sprint canoer, has been a world champion and won an Olympic bronze in the K-1 500-meter.


Israel became an associate member of the ICC in 1974. Israel competed in the 1979 ICC Trophy, the inaugural edition of what is now the Cricket World Cup Qualifier, but failed to get past the first round. They also failed to progress beyond the first round in the 1982 and 1986 tournaments. They reached the plate competition of the ICC Trophy in 1990 and 1994 and in 1996 competed in their first European Championship in Denmark, finishing eighth in the eight team tournament.

In the 1997 ICC Trophy in Malaysia, they faced political demonstrations throughout the tournament from the Islamic Party of Malaysia. They were the first Israeli sports team to play in the country and finished in 21st place.

In 1998, they finished ninth in the European Championship ahead of only Gibraltar and the following year travelled to Gibraltar to take part in a quadrangular tournament also involving France and Italy.

Israel have been playing in Division Two of the European Championships since 2000, finishing fifth in 2000, fourth in 2002, sixth in 2004 and seventh in 2006.

In November 2007, Israel were defeated in a relegation match against Croatia, in the first international cricket game played in Israel. The loss meant that they were relegated from Europe Division Two to Europe Division Three. In 2009 they were re-promoted to second division with a win over Croatia.

At the 2016 ICC Europe Division Two tournament Israel finished fourth, behind Germany, Sweden, and Spain


Israel national men's curling team has been competing as part of the European playdowns since 2014. Israel has sent teams to the world mixed, world mixed doubles and world men's seniors competitions as well.


Notable Israeli fencers have included:

Figure skating[edit]

Zaretski & Zaretski, 2006

Israel has one regulation ice rink, located in Metulla, a city on the Lebanese border. Israel has been sending teams to the Winter Olympics since 1994. In 2002, Galit Chait (world championship bronze medalist) and Sergei Sakhnovski (world championship bronze medalist) finished sixth in ice dancing.[46] Alexandra Zaretski, Belarusian-born Israeli, ice dancer, Olympian,[47] and Roman Zaretski, Belarusian-born Israeli, ice dancer, Olympian[48] a brother and sister ice-dancing pair, came in ninth in the 2008 world championships and first in the 2009 World University Games.[46]

Other notable Israeli skaters include:


Israel has a single 18-hole golf course named Caesarea Golf & Country Club and located in the town of Caesarea and a smaller 9 hole course called Gaash Golf Club located at kibbutz Ga'ash.[53] Notable Israeli golfers include Rami Asayag, Asher Iyasu and world blind golfing champion Zohar Sharon.[54] Laetitia Beck has won the Israeli Championship five times, including for the first time when she was 12 years of age, and won gold medals in golf in both the 2009 and 2013 Maccabiah Games, and is the first Israeli to compete in an LPGA Tour tournament.[55]


Rhythmic gymnast Irina Risenzon
Rhythmic gymnast Veronika Vitenberg

Israeli gymnast Neta Rivkin won a silver medal in the Rhythmic Gymnastics European Championships held in Minsk in 2011, to become the first gymnast of the country to win a medal at the European Championships.[56]

Rivkin also won the first world medal for Israel in rhythmic gymnastics at the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships held in Montpellier, France in 2011, and she won the bronze medal at the hoop final. The Israeli rhythmic gymnastic group also won the bronze medal at the event final of 3 ribbons and 2 hoops at the World Championships in Montpellier.

In 2013, Alexander Shatilov won a gold medal at the European championship in gymnastics in Moscow, Russia.[57] In 2017, Artem Dolgopyat, an Israeli artistic gymnast, won a silver medal at the World Championships.


Israel's national handball team participated in the 2002 European Men's Handball Championship in Sweden. Local power Hapoel Rishon Lezion qualified for the quarterfinals of the EHF Champions League in 2000.

Ice hockey[edit]

Ice hockey started in Israel in 1986 when the first rink opened in Kiryat Motzkin. Israel has a following of over 1,000 ice hockey players. Israel took part in the 2007 Ice Hockey Division II World Championships.

Notable players have included:


The Israel men's national lacrosse team has competed in the European Lacrosse Championships in 2012 finishing in 8th place, and in 2016 finished 2nd. Additionally they finished 7th at the World Lacrosse Championship in 2014.

Domestically, there are two men's clubs and one women's club that operate within Israel.[60]

Martial arts[edit]

Capoeira in Israel

Capoeira clubs operate in various locations in Israel.[61] Krav Maga is taught to most citizens in the army, and practiced recreationally throughout the country. The Association of Martial Arts in Israel is chaired by Hamad Amar, an Israeli Druze member of the Knesset.[62] Nili Block is a world champion kickboxer and Muay Thai fighter.[63]

Judo is one of the three sports in which Israeli athletes have won Olympic medals. In 2013, Yarden Gerbi won a gold medal at the Judo World Championships, and in 2016 she won a bronze medal at the Olympics.[64] Other notable Israeli judokas include:


The Israel Motor-Sport Association was founded in 1990. It has organised rally, autocross, rallycross and drag racing competitions.

Auto racing was legalized in 2011. A 1.5 km permanent racetrack was opened in Port of Eilat, where Formula Israel competitions are held.

Notable Israeli drivers include Chanoch Nissany (Formula One test-driver),[8] Roy Nissany and Alon Day.


Netball was introduced in Israel in 1999 by Jodi Carreira. Today there are clubs in Raanana, Modi'in, Jerusalem, Kfar Etzion and Tel Aviv, all of which have teams participating in the Israel National Netball League. Israel Netball has sent senior and junior teams to international events, culminating in its first international win in Ireland in June 2008. The netball tournament of the Maccabiah has been hosted by Israel Netball since 2001. Currently ranked 36, Israel is a member of the International Netball Federation (INF) and of Netball Europe (NE).


Rugby union is a minor sport brought to the country by British soldiers during the Mandate era. The first game post-independence was in 1951, organized by Leo Camron. A wave of immigration from English speaking countries, and France, since 1967 renewed interest in the sport, particularly in areas with large English-speaking populations such as Ra'anana and Jerusalem. A national league was set up in 1972, and the Israel Rugby Union (now Rugby Israel) formed in 1975. Israel's first international match was away to Switzerland on 25 May 1981, and ended 9-9. The Israel Union joined the International Rugby Board in 1988. Rugby union has also featured at the Maccabiah Games since 1981. Israel has entered the Rugby World Cup Sevens.


The Israel Softball Association[68] (fastpitch) was established in 1979 by a group of immigrants from North and South America. The Israel Softball Association is a registered Non Profit Organization which is recognized by the Sports Authorities in Israel and is a member of “Ayelet” - the Israeli Association of Non-Olympic Competitive Sports. The activities conducted by the Israel Softball Association have assisted in the social integration of immigrants countrywide, and today its members also include many native Israelis. The Association consists of 10 men's teams Divided into A Pool and B Pool, 3 women's teams,21 junior boys teams and 4 junior girls teams. The Israeli National Teams represent the country in European Championships and other International Competitions.


Gal Fridman, winner of Israel's first Olympic gold medal

Israeli windsurfer Gal Fridman won two Olympic gold medals and was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.[69] Israeli windsurfer Shahar Tzuberi won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.[70] In March 2012, Israeli windsurfer Lee Korzits won the women's RS-X title in the Sailing World Championships for the third time in a row.[71]


Seven Israeli wrestlers competed at the 2010 Senior European Championship in Baku. Four were Greco-Roman wrestlers while the others were freestyle.[72] Gotsha Tzitziashvily competed at the Summer Olympics in Athens. He held the world championship title in the 84-kilogram weight class in 2003.[72]

Underwater sports[edit]

Stand Up Paddle Boarding[edit]

Stand Up Paddle boarding or SUP is becoming increasingly popular in Israel. A very accessible lifestyle sport on flat water there are many expeditions available such as the '4 Seas in 4 days'.[73] SUP Surfing is also very popular in Israel and it can offer some world class conditions.[74]

Maccabiah Games[edit]

The Maccabiah Games are an international Jewish athletic event, similar to the Olympics, held every four years in Israel. The first games were held in 1932.

Boycotts and violence against Israeli sportsmen[edit]

Israeli athletes and teams are barred from some competitions.[75] In addition, in many worldwide competitions, such as the Olympics, some Arab and Muslim competitors avoid competing against Israelis.[citation needed] Some countries even force their athletes not to compete against Israelis or in Israel. Mushir Salem Jawher, a Kenyan-born marathoner, lost his Bahraini citizenship after competing in the Kinneret Marathon in Israel.[76]

Integration of Arab citizens in sports[edit]

Despite the country's political problems, a growing number of Arab sportsmen are joining Israeli sports teams and contributing to Israel's success in the international arena, also playing in the Israel national football team. They include Rifat (Jimmy) Turk, Najwan Ghrayib, Walid Badir, Salim Toama, Abbas Suan and more.[77] Another Israeli Arab, Johar Abu Lashin, born in Nazareth, was an IBO Welterweight champion.

Olympic Games[edit]

Shahar Tzuberi, windsurfer and Olympic bronze medalist

Israel has won nine Olympic medals. Gal Fridman won Israel's first Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Medal Name Games Sport Event
 Silver[78] Yael Arad Spain 1992 Barcelona Judo pictogram.svg Judo Women's half middleweight
 Bronze[79] Oren Smadja Spain 1992 Barcelona Judo pictogram.svg Judo Men's lightweight
 Bronze[80] Gal Fridman United States 1996 Atlanta Sailing pictogram.svg Sailing Men's sailboard
 Bronze[81] Michael Kolganov Australia 2000 Sydney Canoeing (flatwater) pictogram.svg Canoeing Men's K-1 500 metres
 Bronze[82] Ariel Zeevi Greece 2004 Athens Judo pictogram.svg Judo Men's half heavyweight
 Gold[80] Gal Fridman Greece 2004 Athens Sailing pictogram.svg Sailing Men's sailboard
 Bronze[83] Shahar Tzuberi China 2008 Beijing Sailing pictogram.svg Sailing Men's sailboard
 Bronze[84] Yarden Gerbi Brazil 2016 Rio de Janeiro Judo pictogram.svg Judo Women's half middleweight
 Bronze[85] Or Sasson Brazil 2016 Rio de Janeiro Judo pictogram.svg Judo Men's heavyweight

Sports media[edit]

Television, radio, newspapers and news web sites discuss Israeli sports. In 2010, Israel sports radio, the country's first English-language all-sports talk radio station, was established, covering Israeli and American sports.[86][87]

See also[edit]


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