Behind the Headlines the Maccabi Games in Europe
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Behind the Headlines the Maccabi Games in Europe

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The biggest ever European Maccabi Games begin in Leicester in the midlands, next Sunday. A record number of 13 countries will be competing, involving a total of nearly 500 athletes. Israel will be sending a team of 51 and Britain, the host country, will have 66. The Belgians with 74 head the list in terms of numbers.

Competing for the first time will be Spain a reflection, the organizers believe, of the more relaxed and liberal atmosphere in post-France Spain. The other competing nations are Finland, Sweden, Denmark, West Germany, Austria, Holland, Switzerland, Italy and France.

There will be no gymnastics. Most of the events will be team competitions. They are volleyball, handball, basketball, football and three sports in which there will be team as well as individual competitions: tennis, table-tennis and badminton.


Harry Shapiro, who has been the main organizer of the games on behalf of British Maccabi told this reporter that he was delighted with the size of the entry. “It will be the most representative European Maccabi games of all time. There have never been more than seven or eight countries competing before and this time there will be hardly any European country this side of the Iron Curtain that will not be sending a team.”

Shapiro, who was in charge of the British team that competed in the European Maccabi games in Copenhagen 20 years ago and was involved in all the games since then, has been working on the organization of this one for the better part of a year. The movement now has a European “shaliach,” Rafi Matzliach, who is based in Brussels and who has succeeded in breathing new life into Maccabi in several countries.

Asked who he thinks is going to win most of the medals, Shapiro mentioned the West Germans as “a team to watch.” Israel could do well in basketball where they will be represented by Maccabi Petach Tikva and Britain will be challenging hard for honors in football, lawn tennis and badminton. Apart from the senior events, there will be for the first time this year two junior competitions for the under-16 age group in football and table tennis.

Shapiro’s message to all the competitors whatever country they come from, is simple: “We are striving to make these games a happy and enjoyable experience for all of you. We believe its importance lies not in winning but in taking part. We hope that you will be humble in victory and generous in defeat.” After all, the Maccabi games have always been considered a “Jewish Olympics” and Shapiro’s words have a suitably Olympian ring about them.

The games end Aug. 10. During the five days that the sportsmen from the 13 countries are together in Leicester, they will be able to benefit, if they wish, from a social and cultural program that has been arranged–an innovation for these games. It has been drawn up by John Kay, director of British Maccabi. The central theme of the program is Israel. Says Kay: “Israel is the common link between all the participants and we are going to use this to bring the competitors together in their leisure hours.”


There will be a film show and folk evenings. The main attraction will be a 19-member Israeli group which is coming over specially for the occasion and information evenings. Maccabi is being helped in this by a number of Anglo-Jewish organizations, such as the Zionist Federation, the National Council for Soviet Jewry and the London offices of the Jewish Agency’s youth and hecholurz and aliya departments, all of which are mounting displays in the residence halls where the competitors will be staying.

The games will be opened Sunday afternoon at the sports ground of Leicester University by Dr. Mac Goldsmith, president of the games and a local Leicester Jewish personality. At the opening ceremony, all competitors will parade and will carry both their national flags and the Maccabi flag. The games will end the following Thursday, after the final event, the final of the football competition.

Among those coming from Israel for the occasion will be Israel Peled, Mayor of Ramat Gan, who is chairman of the World Maccabi Union. World Maccabi President Pierre Gildesgame, of Britain, is one of the patrons, as are the Bishop of Leicester and many leaders of the Jewish community here.

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