SYDNEY, Australia (Jul. 28)
The families of four Australian athletes who died in a bridge collapse at the 1997 Maccabiah Games are outraged that a man found guilty of negligence in the disaster was appointed to new positions in the Maccabi sports movement.
Both Maccabi World Union and Maccabi Israel recently found new jobs for Yoram Eyal, who served six months of community service for his part in the tragedy.
In July 1997, the Australian team was making its way across a hastily constructed footbridge to the opening ceremony of the 15th Maccabiah in Israel’s Ramat Gan stadium.
The bridge collapsed, hurtling the team into the murky, polluted waters of the Yarkon River. Four members of the team died and 70 were injured.
Eyal, the head of the organizing committee for the international games, was sentenced two years ago after he commissioned the ill-fated bridge. Four others were sentenced to jail time for their role in the tragedy.
Colin Elterman, whose daughter, Sasha, was seriously injured in the accident, is the spokesman for the families who lost relatives in the disaster.
He told JTA: “We will not rest until this man has been removed from any official Maccabi position. Maccabi should not have a convicted criminal in any role within its organization.”
He plans a media campaign to inform international Jewish communities and Israeli taxpayers, who pay part of the fee for the Maccabiah Games, of Eyal’s appointments.
Maccabi World Union has appointed Eyal head of the North American desk and has given him back his old $120,000 job as head of Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan.
Maccabi Israel has made him responsible for the registration of the country’s sports clubs.
The president of Maccabi Australia, Phil Filler, said: “When Eyal’s appointments were announced at the world conference, they were met with resounding applause. The Australian delegation sat on their hands.”
Eyal has said that he will never again take part in organizing a Maccabiah. But he said: “I didn’t elect myself to those bodies. I have paid the price according to the courts and I don’t think I need to stay home for the rest of my life.”
Maccabi Israel Chairman Igal Carmi and Maccabi World Union President Jean Futeran told Filler that Eyal had served his sentence and deserved another chance.
Not everyone in Israel agrees.
Sports Minister Matan Vilnai brought the appointments to the attention of the Knesset.
The Israeli daily Yediot Achronot received more than 200 complaints from readers condemning the appointments after it published the story.
Zvulun Orlev, head of the Knesset’s Sports and Education Committee, said of Eyal’s appointments: “This was not a smart decision. There has been no thought given to the feelings of the Jewish people of Australia.”