The Israeli Olympic Team hopes to stay focused on sports and not on politics. GETTY IMAGES

Despite security threats and concerns over provocations, Israel is working to ensure that the athletes competing at the games in Paris can keep their focus entirely on sport, The Times of Israel reported last week.

It’s not an easy task, given the current political landscape, and concerns unrelated to sports have put the Israeli delegation on high alert for the possibility of attacks on its athletes in Paris and at other competition locations around France, which has been the site of several radical Islamic terror attacks in recent years.

"What we want from our athletes and our team members is focus: the mental focus of our athletes and coaches, without the outside pressure of security worries and anti-Israel provocations. At the end of the day, we want our athletes to come and work, to compete," Yael Arad, president of the Olympic Committee of Israel, told reporters in a press conference at OCI headquarters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

Arad, a former Olympic judoka who won Israel’s first-ever medal in Barcelona '92, said that for months "we thought that by the time we got to the Olympics, the hostages, captured by Hamas in October, would have all returned home." She went on to say that the complicated ongoing situation also gives the athletes "a lot of strength to represent the people of Israel and the Jewish people."

Israel has won 13 Olympic medals in its history and has set its sights on bringing home four or five medals, and for its athletes to qualify for 15-18 finals in this edition of the Games. To achieve this, the country has upped its incentives for its athletes. 

Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar announced the largest-ever government incentive for Israeli Olympic medalists, NIS 1 million for gold (€245,742), NIS 700,000 (€172,019)  for silver and NIS 500,000 (€122,870) for bronze, all tax-free.

Despite calls for Israel to be barred from competing in the games, or forced to compete under a neutral banner, as with athletes from Russia and Belarus, Israel expects to send around 85 athletes to compete in Paris, the country’s second-largest delegation ever. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has confirmed that there was “no question” Israel would compete as usual.

The safety of their athletes is the top priority and the country has nearly doubled its security budget for the Paris Olympics. Though Israeli Olympic officials are also aware of the possibility of protests, booing, as well as the potential for some athletes or teams to refuse to play against Israel. 

Israel’s football team will face Mali, a Muslim-majority nation with no diplomatic relations with Israel, in its first game and could potentially compete against Egypt, Iraq or Morocco in later rounds. Sports Minister Zohar said at the press conference that Israel’s best approach to any such provocations is to ignore them and to allow them to be dealt with through sporting channels, without any political intervention.

"The best way to deal with such things is to win, to succeed on the sporting field. Politics should not be mixed up with sport." Zohar said decisively. 

Arad expects all athletes to follow the Olympic guidelines, noting that while competing or on the podium athletes cannot express any political statements, including wearing a hostage pin, but are free to make any comments in post-game interviews. IOC president Thomas Bach said in a statement back in March that the safety of the Israeli athletes was a top concern.

"Since the heinous attack on the Israeli team (during the 1972 Munich Olympics) there were always special measures being taken with Israeli athletes. The authorities feel comfortable that the same will be true of course also for Paris, Marseille, or wherever there will be Israeli representation," said Bach.