Sporting enthusiasts will converge upon Israel for the 19th Maccabiah, the third largest sporting event in the world and the largest Jewish athletic competition in the world, which kicks off at Ramat gan Stadium in Ramat Gan July 18.
The Maccabiah will take over Israel until July 30.
This year’s theme is “Higher! Faster! Stronger!: Sound Jewish minds in healthy Jewish bodies.”
Olympic medalists and world champions will compete alongside amateur and community league players representing more than 70 countries, including supporters. Competitors will hail from Australia, Brazil and the U.S. as well as Cuba and Guinea-Bissau, to name a few, reported The Israel Times.
Some of the athletes who will attend and potentially compete at the Maccabiah include USA gymnast Aly Raisman and swimmers Garrett Webber-Gale and Jason Lezak, as well as Australian sprinter Steven Solomon and Israeli gymnast Alex Shatilov, fresh off their wins at the 2012 Olympics in London.
“This year we have many first class athletes involved,” says Maccabiah chairman Amir Peled. “Some are competing, others are participating from the sidelines, but “they’re all taking an active part in the Maccabiah.”
“The Maccabiah is the most important Jewish and Zionist event in the world,” Peled tells the Times of Israel. “There is no Jewish-Zionist event in the world that comes close to doing what the Maccabiah does — reaching everyone, those who belong to a synagogue and those who don’t attend at all.”
Launched in 1932, The Maccabiah Games were the first ever held during the British Mandate of Palestine. The games hosted in Tel Aviv welcomed nearly 400 athletes representing 18 countries, including more than 60 athletes from Arab countries, such as Syria and Egypt, according to the organization’s website. During its more than 80 year history, the Maccabiah has grown into a $52 million sporting event.
In 2009, an estimated 9,000 Jewish athletes from 54 countries came to Israel to compete.
While some countries, such as Iran, won’t be represented at the games, this year’s event welcomes new teams representing 20 countries this year, Cuba being one of the new delegations, according to Peled.
The last games were held in 2009.
An Olympic feat
Sporting events will be held throughout Israel. The challenge sporting facilities, lodging, transportation and other facilities to handle the thousands of people expected to attend, economic troubles in Europe, and Israeli apathy about the event.
“We’re fulfilling, or almost fulfilling, all the potential Israel has when it comes to infrastructure — with the sporting facilities, hotels, buses and other facilities needed,” says Peled.
Peled is also contending with economic troubles in Europe that have impacted the sporting event making it difficult for delegations to participate. He’s had to help delegations with fundraising efforts to ensure their participation, he says.
In spite of Europe’s financial troubles, it’s anticipated that fans and supporters of the more than 9,000 athletes competing in 40 events throughout Israel will pump an estimated $35 million into Israel, according to a Maccabiah.
Regarding the drop off in interest in the event among Israelis’ toward the games, Peled is optimistic that the games are heading toward a renaissance. He hopes hoping this year marks the turning point, he says.
“In Israel, most people don’t even know it’s taking place,” he continues, pointing out that Israelis “aren’t connected [to the games].”
His goal is to connect Israelis to the competition.
The Maccabiah is personal for Peled. His father was one of the founders of the games and his daughter won medals in various swim heats.
To reconnect Israelis to the Maccabiah, he is taking a number of avenues to make the games more accessible from opening some of the games free to the public, broadcasting the competitions on Israeli sporting channels; and through the Israeli Defense Forces.
“Israelis like watching quality sports and their national teams,” he says. “There will be no room at the pool during the swim events, or at the judo and gymnastic events, because of the high level of competition.”
Additionally, there are events every night, including four major events: opening and closing ceremonies, a gala night and a youth gathering.
Through these efforts he hopes Israelis will gain “Ahavat Yisrael,” translated “the love of Israel.”
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