J'lem to host largest ever Maccabiah Games this year

By CARA DORRIS
July 7, 2013 23:12

20,000 tourists expected for the sporting events this month, generating estimated NIS 200 million in two weeks.

3 minute read.



Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at a press conference to promote the 19th quadrennial Maccabiah Games.

Nir Barkat at Maccabia press conference 370. (photo credit: Courtesy GPO)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has run in marathons all over the world. However, he is not planning to lace up his running shoes for the Maccabiah Games opening on July 18. He intends to take on a somewhat different role.

“I’m going to be a big spectator and cheer all of the athletes on,” Barkat said at a press conference Sunday promoting the 19th edition of the Games, on the roof of the capital’s Mamilla Hotel.

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This year’s events look to be the largest ever, hosting some 9,000 athletes from 71 countries.

“If you consider the last Olympics, there were 10,500 athletes, said Maccabiah chairman, Amir Peled. “Obviously this is not the same level as the Olympics, but in size, this one is bigger than the one in Sydney – and you have to remember we are such a small country.”

The quadrennial Maccabiah, also known as the “Jewish Olympics,” is the world’s largest Jewish athletic competition.

It offers athletes from all over the world the opportunity to compete, but also to tour the country and learn more about Israeli society.

Usually held in Tel Aviv, this year Jerusalem will host the game’s three main events: the opening ceremony, the Youth Event at the Sultan’s Pool on July 25 and the closing celebration on July 30.

“From the beginning of my term as mayor, I have placed sports and culture as a major priority,” said Barkat. “It is important for Jerusalem to be the center of gravity in Israel – a city that represents the deep connection between Jews all over the world.”

The mayor cited the recent European U-21 soccer championship, the Formula-1 race, the expansion of Teddy stadium and the construction of a new Olympic size swimming pool as examples of the centrality of sports in the city.

“Jerusalem is going through a big sports moment right now,” Barkat said.

Last month 12,000 seats were added to Teddy stadium, increasing capacity to 34,000.

The NIS 100-million plan is the first phase of a project to ultimately accommodate 50,000 spectators.

The government’s investment is predicted to pay off.

About 20,000 tourists are expected to visit for the Maccabiah Games, filling 160,000 rooms a night and generating NIS 200m. in two weeks.

To accommodate the tourists, the government has invested NIS 1.5m. in medical services.

The capital expects to have 1,000 additional police officers on the streets, 1,500 stewards, 60 patrol vehicles and 3,000 active volunteers.

The first Maccabiah took place in 1932, when 400 Jewish athletes met in the streets of Tel Aviv. The event aimed to help athletes who were banned from international competition because of their religion.

Over time the Maccabiah Games became more of a way to promote Jewish solidarity, strengthening ties between the Diaspora and Israel and encouraging aliya.

“There are 25 new delegations,” said Peled. “That means this year there will be Jewish participants from places like Cuba and Nicaragua that have never, ever been to Israel for any kind of event. That is something very powerful.”

The Jewish community in Cuba, which Peled said numbers about 1,500, is sending 55 athletes.

The actual turnout of athletes to the Maccabiah Games is dependent upon the outcome of the Foreign Ministry employee strike, which has lasted for three months.

Because of the strike, visa-application processing has been halted, preventing athletes from 14 countries from entering Israel. If the dispute is not settled this month, some of the 9,000 participants may be noshows.

The opening ceremony to be held at Teddy stadium intends to utilize top technology.

“It will be a 360-degree show which will include the spectators as an active part,” said director of the ceremony, Ran Tzahor.


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