An investigation by Israeli journalists Itai Rom and Omer Feigel, which aired on local „Channel 13“, has revealed that the rhythmic gymnastics group members, their parents, their head-coach Irina Vigdorchik, „Brevet“ judge Fira Voronov, and several other high-ranking officials in the Gymnastics Association had successfully carried out plans to bribe judges at international competitions, in order to achieve higher placement in the years between 2008 and 2021, as reported by Haaretz.co.il.
All of this was allegedly encouraged by the Israel Gymnastics Association.
If you’ve followed the sport for long enough, you’ll know the Israeli group has been accompanied by scandals, on the one hand „thanks“ to its now infamous coach Irina Vigdorchik, who in 2016 was removed from her position, after being accused of going drunk to work and beating her gymnasts, but was then reinstated in 2018. But on the other hand, fans have noticed questionable placements of the team in prestigious international competitions, notably at the European Championships in 2021 where they won the gold medal in the exercise with 3 hoops and 4 clubs, ahead of the future Olympic champions from Bulgaria. Well, it seems it all makes sense now.
According to the claims made during this investigation, for years the gymnasts’ parents were asked to pay bribes to judges in international competitions so that they would give their daughters high scores.
Ayelet Dayan-Levitt, mother of the gymnast Ofir Dayan, Olympian in Tokyo 2020 and European Champion in Varna, was one of the parents interviewed by the program. According to her, „in the world of rhythmic gymnastics there is a whole, parallel world“ – parallel to the one that is largely presented to society – little girls spending their childhoods inside the hall, chasing the olympic dream -„Judges, coaches, businessmen, who simply determine what happens in the world below… and use those girls and their families as playthings.“
Icha Kramer, a former member of the board of the Israel Gymnastics Association, was heard telling Dayan-Levitt in the investigation: „(in) rhythmic gymnastics, it’s not enough to just be the best, you need a lot of money and a lot of connections.“
According to Dayan-Levitt, senior international judge Fira Voronov admitted to her that „what managed to secure the qualification and the [all-around] final for the Israeli team“ at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 was a bribe in the form of jewelry worth 60 000 shekels [roughly 15 000 EUR] of gold and diamonds.
„You don’t know how much jewelry I took off of me and how much of my money I gave,“ Voronov says.
Kramer also admits that one of the judges took 40 000$ – „and it helped a lot for them (the team) to qualify to the Olympics.“
Voronov also told Dayan-Levitt they had bribed the later disgraced and sanctioned head judge of the London 2012 Olympics Maria Szyszkowska, who „loved money, and took a lot of money and only money.“
Raanan Warshabiak, former chairman of the gymnastics association, also told Dane-Levitt similar things: „I bought her a necklace for NIS 1 200 [±300 EUR] of my own money. I was expecting a medal in the same competition, for the group, and I had a plan that whatever result we got – we would file an inquiry, and the inquiry would depend on it.“
Dayan-Levitt was first exposed to bribery herself in 2015, when her daughter Ofir was preparing for the European Junior Group Championships. „The coach came and asked us parents to each give money for gifts,“ she recalls, and says that the reasoning for this was: „If we don’t give out gifts in competitions to the judges, we have nothing to come to at the competition.“
The first time around, the sum that was talked about was 1 000 shekels, and then in every competition they asked to „add more money, make a jackpot“. Marina Raits, mother of gymnast and Ofir teammate Nathalie Raits, also confirms the allegations: „It was indeed like that and it will continue being like that, and it shouldn’t be like that.“
Ellie Toledo, a former gymnast on the team, participant at the 2018 World Championships in Sofia, has a similar testimony. „We would always buy gifts for the judges: soaps, creams like that, Dead Sea kits. One of the parents would buy about ten bags with them, we would bring them to the coaches and they would give them to the judges.“
When Dayan-Levitt asked the Gymnastics association why they don’t allocate a budget for gifts, but instead the parents have to pay, they answered: „There is no budget, that’s how we do it.“
According to her, each gift was intended for a certain judge and was supposed to suit them. She received the specific instructions from Vigdorchik and Voronov before each competition, and things were no different at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. In the investigation, many recordings are played in real time between Dayan-Levitt and the Association members, the coaches, and the judges – in which they guide her which gifts to buy and for whom. „You wait for the [judges] draw, see which judge has been placed in a more influential position – and give the more expensive gifts to the judge with the greater influence in that competition,“ she explains. According to her, it was not only about gifts – but also cash in envelopes. The amounts, according to the recordings, could have reached 15 000 EUR.
The Gymnastics Association denied the allegations, and said in response to the publication of the investigation: „The liars (…) will not succeed in their dark scheme to damage the Olympic gold medals and dozens of other medals that Israel won solely thanks to great sporting achievements, as the whole world saw on live television broadcasts, and not in the dark. Mrs. Levitt lied to you, as well as the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), which is why she is being sued for a defamation claim for a sum of over NIS 800 000 [200 000EUR]. Unfortunately, one disgruntled lady is slandering the Gymnastics Association, which is being conducted in an exemplary manner and, as mentioned, brings honor and prestige, rightly, to Israeli sports. She can have her grumbling and her lies – and we, along with the entire nation of Israel – will have the gold medals.“
הנורמה שתיחשף הערב ב"מקור" קיימת שנים ארוכות, מן הסתם בכל העולם, היא מגיעה לאולימפיאדות ואליפויות עולם ובכל זאת, מעולם לא נחשפה. מן הסתם, גם לא הייתה נחשפת לולא אישה אחת מאוד יוצאת דופן, אימה של קפטן נבחרת ישראל בהתעמלות אומנותית, שהשתתפה בתשלומים והקליטה את השיחות, הערב ב 21:15 pic.twitter.com/z63ueQS4ft
— Raviv Drucker (@RavivDrucker) February 20, 2023