'Biggest ever' Maccabiah set to defy economic downturn

Over 300 delegates from 64 countries attend three-day plenum in Ramat Gan; 15,000 Israelis to participate in new initiative.

maccabiah 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
maccabiah 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Despite the worldwide economic meltdown, this summer's Maccabiah Games will be the biggest ever, Jeanne Futeran, president of the Maccabi World Union, said on Tuesday. Futeran spoke to The Jerusalem Post at the conclusion of a three-day Maccabi World Union plenum, which took place at Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan this week. "It has been a tough job ensuring that all the athletes will be able to come, but we are all working very hard and we expect this year's Maccabi Games to be the biggest ever." As the preparations for the July 2009 Games got into gear last year, fears arose that many participants would not be able to afford the expensive costs involved. However, Futeran said she was sure the event, known as the 'Jewish Olympics', would be a massive success. Each athlete participating in the Games will pay an entrance, transportation, and lodging fee of $2,900, an amount which does not include flight, making it "tremendously expensive," said head of Maccabi UK, Stuart Greenberg. Maccabi is attempting to help athletes attend by encouraging the larger delegations to donate money to help participants from less financially developed countries. Ron Carner, who heads the American delegation, said his group had already given $500,000 to the Maccabi World Union for this purpose. One notable figure expected to attend the Games is actor Kirk Douglas, who is part of the Committee of 18, a group of Southern-California based business, entertainment and civic leaders, who have come together to "create worldwide awareness and provide unprecedented financial and technical support for the 18th Maccabiah World Games," according to the Maccabiah Web site. Addressing the economic difficulties faced by squads, Greenberg said, "all of our athletes are still planning to come." Carner, echoed his sentiments. The American team will be sending just over 1,000 athletes, who will be participating in 28 out of the 37 events. "It's an obligation and a responsibility for us to be here," said Carner. "Sports are an opportunity to bring people together, it's not just a charity event." According to Ittamar Herman, head of the Maccabiah Games Organizing Committee, athletes from Europe will be spending $5,000, while athletes from North America and Australia will be spending up to $7,000 to attend the Games. The number of athletes will not be finalized until March, but the figure stands at just over 7,000, making it the third largest sporting event in the world. More than 300 delegates from 64 countries, sat down at the plenum to hammer out final arrangements for the Games, which will run from July 13 -23 in Israel. New sports being added include cycling, and an entirely new program aimed at engaging Israelis, called "Popular Maccabiah," which will run events on the two Fridays of the Games. The first event will be a beach sport event and the second a biking competition. Officials are expecting up to 15,000 Israelis to participate in the biking event. At least six new countries will be sending their first ever delegations to the Games. These include Suriname, Puerto Rico, Macedonia, Aruba, and Scotland, which will be participating separately from the United Kingdom for the first time. One celebrated athlete expected in attendance at the Maccabiah Games is Olympic swimming gold medalist, Jason Lezak. The American squad has yet to receive final confirmation, but is "hopeful" that Lezak, who won two gold and a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, will join its delegation. Events at the 18th Maccabiah will take place in venues all over Israel, but mainly in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa, and Jerusalem. The opening ceremonies, which will take place at Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv, "will be new and different," Futeran promised. "We plan to harness the enthusiasm of the athletes," she said, explaining that for the first time, athletes will be participating in the ceremony. Herman was excited by the atmosphere at the plenum. "We're counting down the days," he said. "If it were up to me, I'd start the Games tomorrow."