Controversy over Jewish Identity of Athletes Roils Maccabiah Games

The controversy over who is a Jew erupted at the Maccabiah games, Israel’s version of the Olympics, after the Belgian team angrily withdrew from further competition because two of its water polo players were disqualified on grounds that their mother was not Jewish. The Maccabiah rules state that competition is open to any Jewish sportsman or sports woman. Rabbinical authorities in Israel insist that to be a Jew a person must have a Jewish mother or undergo conversion rites. Maccabiah sports clubs in many countries, however, admit non-Jews and children of mixed marriages, some of who are competing in the current games.

A dispute arose when the Canadian team which so far has scored no points in water polo, refused to meet the powerful Belgian team on the grounds that Paul and Mark Rigaumont, members of the Maccabiah Club in Antwerp are not Jewish. The Rigaumont brothers have a non-Jewish mother. Their father, who died recently, was a member of the Belgian water polo teams in the fourth, fifth and sixth Maccabiah games. The Canadian complaint was referred to the Maccabiah organizing committee which decided against the Rigaumonts after which the entire Belgian contingent withdrew.

A similar incident occurred earlier when a Belgian table-tennis player withdrew voluntarily after other players charged that his mother wasn’t Jewish. The Brazilian basketball team lodged the same complaint against a player on the Uruguayan team which had just defeated it. But the Maccabiah committee allowed the game’s result to stand.

As of last Friday, the American team continued to lead in various events. American athletes won 26 gold medals, 15 silver and eight bronze medals in the first three-and-a-half days of competition. The Israeli team was second with 18 gold medals, 20 silver and 15 bronze. Holland won five gold medals, England four, Argentina two and South Africa, Italy, France, Mexico and Australia one each. An American swimmer, Richard Miller, won the 100 meter backstroke finals with a time of 63.8 seconds. Another American, Maryann Spiro, took the 200 meter butterfly in 2.34 minutes to win her second gold medal.

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