At Rugby Europe's annual meeting in Paris at the beginning of this month, Menachem Ben Menachem was honoured to be awarded for his contributions to Israeli rugby.
The former men’s international player is currently a management/board member with the Israel Rugby Union after serving as its President between 2008 and 2020.
“I was humbled and honoured to receive the Gold Medal,” the 56-year-old said.
“For me personally it is indeed a token of recognition for many years of involvement in developing rugby in Israel.
“With Covid-19 around in Israel in 2020/2021, it made life in the sport very challenging, but despite the difficulties we managed some sort of return to rugby activity in the second half of 2020 and a return to full rugby activity - leagues, national teams, development - in 2021.
“In these difficult times we actually took the opportunity to reorganise and become more efficient and focused. There were some big developments throughout this period.
“Tag Rugby was officially recognised and accepted by the Israeli public education system, a very big step after decades of failures to get such authorisation.
“We managed to get a wild card to join the new Rugby Europe Super Cup with a Tel Aviv Heat Rugby professional franchise now playing in that competition.
“And the tour to the UAE following the Abraham Accords to play the first ever game between our national sevens teams was a big moment.
“It was a historical event and it broke down barriers. It's very exciting and rewarding when a sports event breaks barriers and all the Israeli rugby community felt happy to be part of this special event. We really look forward to continuing and expanding the event to other nations who joined the Abraham Accords such as Morocco, Bahrain, and possibly Sudan.”
What does the future hold for rugby in Israel?
“For us, 2022 is a stabilising year economically and competitively after the two seasons of Covid-19,” he explains.
“In the men’s XVs game we hope to build on the professional platform created by the Tel Aviv Heat, but this is a step-by-step process that will take time.
“We are a competitive contender in Conference South of the Rugby Europe competitions, but we have a number of strong opponents in the likes of Croatia and Malta.
“In sevens, both our men's and women's teams are in the Rugby Europe Trophy competitions and due to Covid-19 circumstances we find ourselves competing this year with some national teams from Six Nations countries. It is very exciting and challenging and we are setting our goals accordingly - we want to finish in the top half of the group.
“Growing Rugby in Israel and introducing the ‘sport they play in heaven’ to the kids and youth of my country was always the driving force of my involvement and motivation.
“It is very exciting to see it happening, it takes hard work, but it is rewarding.”
Origins and off the pitch
Rugby has been a lifelong passion for Menachem Ben Menachem, having now been involved in the oval ball game for 40 years.
He started playing the sport at Ra’anana Rugby Club in his home country when he was 16.
“A classmate invited me to a practice. Two weeks later I played for the first time, got a black eye from a hand-off by the opposing full-back, loved it and never looked back,” he recounts with a smile.
“At 17 I was selected for the first ever Israeli youth national team which traveled to South Africa in 1981 which was amazing.
“I then played for the full national team as a flanker between 1983 and 1993 before, while traveling and studying between 1993 and 2000, playing for the Taipei Baboons in Taiwan and New York Rugby Club in the USA.
“I returned to Israel and Israeli rugby in 2000 and played for the Haifa Wild Boars senior club first and the ‘oldies’ side since.
“My two boys - aged 22 and 19 - are playing for Haifa Wild Boars too which is great.
“Off the pitch, I became a management member of Haifa Wild Boars in 2001 and have represented the club via the Israel Rugby Union since 2002.
“I was Development Officer for the Union for three years between 2005 and 2008 before my presidency spell and I really do just love the game.”
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