Israel has largest delegation at International Children’s Games in Russia

A 150-member delegation shipped out from Israel to play in the International Children's Games.

July 18, 2019 17:07
2 minute read.
The Israeli delegation at the opening ceremony of the International Children`s Games

The Israeli delegation at the opening ceremony of the International Children`s Games. (photo credit: PRESS SERVICE OF THE ICG/COURTESY)

Soccer players Osher Maimon, Tzhahi Levy and Or Ben-Baruch were three of the 150-member Israeli delegation that participated last week in the 53rd International Children’s Games, which were held in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, a federal republic of Russia.

The ICG is an International Olympic Committee-sanctioned event held every year, and in 2019 Israel’s delegation was the largest of all 29 participating countries, which consisted of 1,192 young athletes between the ages of 12 and 15 competing in a variety of sports and cultural activities.

“We spoke Hebrew everywhere – in the stadium, the training halls, stores, supermarkets,” said Maimon, a 13-year-old from Beersheba. “But we never felt any negative attitude toward us. When we were told that we were going to fly to Bashkortostan, my parents found out through the Internet that it was a two-hour flight from Moscow. They also learned that Bashkortostan was a Muslim republic, but they wanted me to go anyway. They thought it would be good for me."

Speaking about his impressions of the Games, he added, “We Israelis often think that the whole world is against us. This idea may be wrong; at least we didn’t feel any hostile attitude here. Muslims here are different; they are warm and friendly."

Levy, 13, was also excited to share his experience.

"I think we have seen a high level of soccer, which is good for us to learn,” he said. “It was worth all the hard work."

The Israelis asked for kosher food for the children, and their request was fulfilled by the organizers. Competitions were held in swimming, judo, beach volleyball, soccer – for both boys and girls – as well as climbing, classic wrestling and athletics. The competition was sponsored by Russian natural gas giant Gazprom, which invested $55 million in the IGC, which promoted Gazprom’s “Football for Friendship” initiative.

While the young Israeli soccer players lost all the matches in which they competed – "We put our Israeli heart and soul into the games, but the Lithuanians and the Hungarians were much stronger," said 14-year-old Ben-Baruch – other members of the Israeli delegation reached the podium, earning 23 total medals, including two golds in judo, awarded to Itamar Zeevi and Ofek Rehamim from Kfar Saba.

But medals and results were secondary to the overall experience at the Games.

"We are witnessing an interesting phenomenon: More and more Israelis want to visit Russia,” said Avi Benbenishti, a professional soccer judge and an Israeli member of the ICG organizing committee. “I often hear from the parents of Israeli children, ‘We want to see Russia – Moscow, the Kremlin and Sochi.’ Perhaps Ufa will soon be added. Who knows?"

Radii Habirov, acting head of the Republic of Bashkortostan, commented on the arrival of the Israeli delegation.

"We are aware of how sensitive Israel is to security issues. We are proud that the situation is now so quiet and calm in Bashkortostan that Israel sent such a large group of children. We are looking forward to broadening our cooperation."

The writer was a guest of the International Children`s Games.

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