LONDON (Jun. 20)
Despite initial reports to the contrary and confusion among its athletes, Britain is planning to send a team to the Maccabiah Games next month.
It was widely expected that the "Jewish Olympics" would be canceled or postponed, and it was reported that the British team — one of the largest — had pulled out amid security concerns.
But in a surprise decision last Friday, the Games’s steering committee decided to hold the games as scheduled after Maccabi-USA announced it would send a delegation after all.
Other delegations — from South Africa, Canada and Australia — quickly announced that they, too, would attend.
This week, the British organizers sent a letter to all of their athletes saying that a team would be sent to Israel — and asking who still wanted to go.
John Barnett, a co-chair of the British organizing committee, said Britain would send a team "even if it’s only one" — himself.
Barnett, 62, is competing in the master’s tennis category.
But he does not expect to be alone in the British contingent.
The committee’s letter explaining the situation was sent to 350 athletes Tuesday night, and by Wednesday morning, 10 already had said they would go. One said no, Barnett told JTA.
This week’s letter followed one sent last week that said Britain was not going to send a team next month because the Games were expected to be cancelled or postponed.
Barnett denied that the British organizers had reversed themselves.
"We said all along that if the Games were going to be held, we would send a team," he said.
Over-35 soccer player Alan Younger was delighted to hear that the Games were going ahead and that Britain would be represented.
"I don’t want to jump out and leave Israel alone," he said. "With the current situation, we should show solidarity."
He said he was annoyed that the athletes had never been given an opportunity to express their views.
In fact, following the report that Britain would not be sending competitors, Younger’s soccer team began investigating arrangements to go on their own, without national sponsorship.
"Everyone still seems to be interested," Younger said.
He admitted that he was frustrated about the conflicting signals coming from the Israeli and British organizers.
His team was told last month that they probably wouldn’t be going to compete this summer.
"We’ve put all our training on hold for four weeks," he said.
But, he added, while some people go to win, for him the goal is to compete and show solidarity with Israel.
"Even if we send a depleted contingent of 200, it’s better than not going at all," he said.
Other British organizations are continuing to send tours to Israel as well, though often with altered schedules.
The United Jewish Israel Appeal is changing itineraries for its Israel Experience youth program. The teens will not stay overnight in Jerusalem or visit Tel Aviv, organizers said.
The United Synagogue, the country’s mainstream Orthodox movement and Britain’s largest Jewish denomination, is sending 20 movement professionals to Israel next week in the first mission ever designed specifically for its administrators.