Menu JTA Search

Participation of South African Olim in Israel Causes Flap at Maccabiah

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

The participation of recently arrived South African emigrants to Israel in a number of areas of competition during the 12th Maccabiah Games has caused some controversy in the Jewish State.

The athletes, in an apparent effort to circumvent the ban on participants from the South African government–ostacized from international competition because of its apartheid policies — arrived here just a week prior to the beginning of the Jewish olympic games on July 15.

The South Africans are competing for a club called “Maccabi Modi’im,” comprised of newly arrived immigrants to Israel, but who have not lived long enough in the Jewish State to be eligible to represent the country. Isaac Ofek, chairman of the Israel Olympic Committee, has ordered an investigation into how the South Africans were allowed to compete in the 11-day games.

Athletes from South Africa are barred from International Olympic Committee-sponsored sports events. Consequently, the organizing committee of the current Maccabiah Games notified South African Maccabiah-affiliated groups that their country could not send a team to the games. Some 4,000 athletes from 38 countries are competing in the Maccabiah Games.

ATHLETES CITED AS NEW IMMIGRANTS

But the Maccabiah organizers insisted that the South African athletes are new immigrants to Israel, and consequently their involvement in the sporting events does not contravene International Sports Federation bans. A spokesman for the Maccabiah Games said that as far as his organization is concerned, “there are no South Africans in the Maccabiah.”

The spokesman indicated that new immigration visas had been issued to the athletes but his office wasn’t in the position to say how many of them will stay and how many are expected to return to South Africa after the games conclude.

Jewish athletes from South Africa have participated in every Maccabiah since the second held in 1935. In the last games held in 1981, 185 athletes from South Africa participated and came in third in the overall competition, collecting 47 medals which placed them behind the United States and Israel.

The Maccabiah organizing committee has stated that “the Maccabiah Games always have been conducted and will continue to be conducted according to the rules of the International Sports Federation. The current competition is taking place in the presence of observers from the International Federation.”

There seemed to be some confusion as to which events the new immigrants, particularly those from South Africa, could enter. They were not, supposedly, permitted to participate in competitions which now ban South Africa. But exactly which competitions in the Maccabiah Games are closed to the South Africans was not known by Maccabiah officials.

During the 1985 Maccabiah Games, several non-olympic events were included in the Maccabiah, including golf, cricket, chess, bridge, badminton, lawn bowling, squash, softball, and two future olympic sports slated for 1988, table tennis and tennis.

NEXT STORY