The Last Word: The real sporting spirit is at the Ayelet Games this weekend

More than 1,500 athletes descend on Eilat for a three-day event with a difference.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
In the world of professional sports winning is everything. The often quoted adage of the taking part being the most important thing is regularly thrown to the wayside while the significance of victory is drummed into the players and coaches. The increasing financial gains to be earned by both players and management are the key motivation, as seen most clearly in top level soccer where it has led to an unpleasant prevalence of players faking injuries to win free kicks or get an opposition player sent off. So the opening of the Ayelet Games in Eilat on Thursday was a breath of fresh air for all involved. More than 1,500 athletes descended on the southern city for a three-day event with a difference. The games are run by Ayelet, the organization which represents sports which are not included in the Olympics. Over the weekend participants will compete in a range of competitions including cricket, golf, rugby, bowling, softball and water-skiing. The Club Hotel in Eilat was a hive of activity all day, with hundreds of competitors, young and old, mixing in a wonderfully friendly atmosphere. What makes the difference here is not just that the sports involved are some of the less popular activities, but that there is a feeling that the participants have genuine sporting interests at heart. Here in Eilat there will be dozens of competitions over the weekend and of course each athlete wants to win. But victory is not the ultimate aim. Players are just as interested in meeting new people and competing with the right spirit and attitude, to enjoy the competition. This attitude was exemplified at the opening ceremony on Thursday evening. In most ceremonies of this type the teams parade together and the supporters cheer for their team or country. Even at the Maccabiah Games the audience roots for their country of choice. But, instead of representing their teams, the participants in the Ayelet Games opening ceremony strode across the stage holding placards announcing the name of the sport they are competing in, to massive applause from their fellow competitors, opponents and team members together. The participants are clearly so proud to see their often overlooked sport given the recognition they feel it deserves that they are more concerned about supporting the sport than about cross-team rivalries. There were some surprising participants amongst the audience, none more so than 11-year-old Omer Bracha who has come to Eilat with his friends from Neve Monoson in the center of the country to compete in the bridge competition - changing the image of the game altogether. The sport which received the loudest cheers throughout the ceremony was rugby. Rugby players are known for their boisterous attitude and this has been combined with the spirit of togetherness at the Ayelet Games. But it won't all be friendly fun. One of the highlights of the games will take place on Saturday afternoon when the French national women's rugby team will take on Israel's national team. The Israeli girls are already fired up for the encounter and they will have time to warm up on Friday when the local Israeli club teams compete in a mini tournament. Another highlight will be the Israeli National Ball Room Dancing championships being held at the games on Friday. The games kicked off on Thursday morning with the cricket competition. Ra'anana got the event off to an exhilarating start, coming back from losing three early wickets to finish its 40 overs on 242-9. The opposing Eilat team could not hold its own against the Ra'anana bowling onslaught and was all out for 174, giving Ra'anana the victory.