Rolling into the future

A Q&A with Shlomo Shmeltzer, chairman of the board for Shlomo Sixt Group and Honorary President of the Paralympic Sports Association in Israel.

Shlomo Shmeltzer 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shlomo Shmeltzer 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Shlomo Shmeltzer is widely considered to be one of Israel’s leading businessmen.He heads the Sixt Automotive Group, the largest automotive group of his kind in Israel. In addition to leading Sixt, Mr. Shmeltzer serves in several capacities as the controlling shareholder in Israel Shipyards, one of the largest privately owned shipyards in the middle east, as well as the Chairman of Afcon Industries, one of the biggest industrial groups in Israel. Mr Shmeltzer has always been at the forefront of Israeli sport, serving as the Honorary President of the Paralympic Sports Association in Israel. Sixt, in addition to being the official car rental sponsor of the 19th Maccabiah Games, are the primary sponsors of Hapoel Tel Aviv football club, having previously sponsored Maccabi Netanya.
1. How will the addition of the Paralympic events enhance the Maccabiah Games?
I was thrilled to hear that the 19th Maccabiah Games would be hosting the Paralympics for the first time in its history, allowing disabled athletes to compete in team sports.
Israeli Paralympic athletes have made strong headway in recent years and were highly successful in last summer’s Paralympics games in London. Israel is ranked 14th overall in the Paralympics games, winning over 380 medals. In the London Paralympics games, the Israeli delegation won a total of eight gold medals, the most memorable of which was the gold medal won by tennis player Noam Gershony. I had the honor and pleasure of accompanying the Paralympic delegation to London and this was undoubtedly one of the most significant and empowering experiences of my life. When I was selected as Honorary President of the Israel Sports Association for the Disabled in Israel Paralympics Committee, I found myself face to face with the exceptional determination, drive and willpower of the Paralympic athletes, who go all out to prove themselves and succeed despite their disability. These qualities, which are also critical in the business world, that requires mental strength and a willingness to cope with challenges, allowed me to forge a bond with these athletes. There is no question in my mind that the inclusion of Paralympic athletes in the Maccabiah games will help reflect the entire spectrum of athletes in Israel under one roof, all of whom should be treated equally.
2. Do you or your companies benefit from your involvement with the Maccabiah games?
I believe that involvement in the Maccabiah Games, as with involvement in other sports in Israel, is first and foremost a public and national mission. I benefit firstly on the ideological level.
The group’s activities in various sports in Israel help promote sports in the country, which needs financial support as this country has great talent. I am also delighted that I was given the chance to allow Maccabiah participants to have access to vehicles so that they can be mobile in the country and have some fun during their visit.
3. Do you think the Maccabiah Games are important for the State of Israel?
I believe that the Maccabiah Games are a celebration for Israel and for Israeli sports, and embody the new Zionism, reflecting another facet of our nation. I am moved each and every time by the fact that love for their country allows Jewish athletes to set aside their promising athletic careers for several weeks to come here out.
The Maccabiah represents Israel in a different light, highlighting excellence and achievement, values that are embodied by the State of Israel, which has, in its brief 65 years since the establishment of the modern state, managed to generate significant accomplishments in every sphere of life. I am confident that the personal experiences of the Maccabiah participants from around the world help them bond with the country and with our tradition as a people, as well as reinforce their sense of belonging. The Maccabiah events significantly contribute to the development of Israeli sports. They also encourage tourism, employment and immigration to Israel.
This year, some of the Maccabiah games will take place in the Negev and in the Galilee, a move that sends an important message to the outlying areas that they can also reap from the economic benefits generated by the Maccabiah. For me, the Maccabiah symbolizes everything that is beautiful in Israel – solidarity, accomplishments, achieving goals and record-breaking performances.
The best gift that Israel can receive from the Diaspora Jewry is immigration to the country after having participating in the Maccabiah Games.
4. Do you wish to see more Paralympic events in Israel?
Paralympic sports have evolved a great deal in recent years, both in Israel and around the world. I believe that what makes Paralympic sports unique is the balance between the rehabilitative-social aspect and the place it has developed over the past several years, i.e. professional achievement-oriented sports that allows the athlete to fulfill his achievement potential. The more accepting that Israeli society becomes of those who are different, the more it will support it and help this group achieve personal and national achievements, the better we will be as a society and a nation. I believe that other Paralympic events should be held, especially since the sport has become extremely legitimate while also having commercial potential.
There is an audience that is interested in viewing Paralympic competitions, and there are businesses that wish to commercially support them.
5. Do you think that sports in general have a larger meaning in life than just a “Game”?
For me, sports is a way of life. Sports affects not only a person’s physical fitness but their emotional well-being as well. Sports requires that the athlete be persistent, meet the goals set, strive for excellence, steady dedication, among others. These attributes make us better people in everyday life. Success in sports increases one’s self-esteem and causes one to feel satisfaction and enjoyment.
At a time when there is increasing awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle, educating the next generation in athletic and challenging activities is critically important.
6. What is your message to the more than 9,000 participants in the 19th Maccabiah Games?
I would like to wish good luck to all participants and hope that we see many records broken alongside many impressive achievements.
I would also love for each non-Israeli participant help us send a message to the world that Israel is much more than a longterm political conflict. Israel is a beautiful country with warm, friendly people and an abundance of good ideas. Every athlete participating in the Maccabiah and who leaves as our ambassador around the world will help broadcast the message and improve public opinion around the world. We would love if the Maccabiah participants make Aliya and remain with us in Israel.