4,000 athletes from 80 countries, 600 competitions in various sports, and a boost to the city's economy; the Youth Maccabiah games was one of the largest and most significant events to take place in Haifa in recent years
Photos: Reuven Cohen
Haifa hosted the Youth Maccabiah for the first time in the history of the games; more than 1,000 athletes and some 3,000 relatives, friends and escorts came to Haifa this year. The City built a gigantic Olympic youth village in the southern outskirts of the city, where the participants of the Youth Maccabiah could enjoy various facilities. Adjacent to the village was a youth training camp where the young athletes trained for the upcoming competitions.
In preparation for the events, all of the municipal sports venues where the games took place were upgraded and had new PA systems installed. In addition, new air conditioning systems at a cost of about 2 million shekels were installed in the gyms of Dinur and Dagan schools, in Nave Sha'anan and Kiryat Haim respectively.
Nir Shaul, Haifa Sports Authority: "It is important to understand that this was the most significant sports event in Haifa in the last four years. Its significance does not lie merely in the pure sporting aspect. One should remember that 1,200 people stayed here for a week during the pre-camp, and during the Maccabiah 2,200-2,500 teenagers stayed here for a fortnight, accompanied by an unknown number of family members. Obviously, that gave an immense boost to local hotels and businesses.
"Still, I believe our greatest success was in concluding a three-week event without any significant complaint. I mean, if we look at the city of Haifa and its best interest, the event produced a large number of 'ambassadors' who will speak of the city's virtues in their homelands. It already bore fruit: currently there are talks about conducting next year mini-games in all sorts of branches, i.e. to essentially produce sub-events for the next Maccabiah in Haifa. This was the first success of the games.
"Maccabiah officials announced unequivocally that they are interested in the city for the next Maccabiah. Not only that, but like I said, they want to hold international event, swimming championship, ball games, martial arts tournaments, during the next three or four years to build the next event a little more gradually.
"The second, related, success, was that each day dozens of small events took place here in parallel, such as mini-football, basketball, volleyball, beach volleyball, cycling, swimming, judo, karate, tai chi. The organization, the conduct, even small details like the water the athletes received... on a daily level it was a huge success. No adverse events were recorded.
"I think that beyond the professional side, the third success was the amazing atmosphere we created. Once again, it all revolves around the process—the single person's experience. We built two compounds for the young athletes, a hub at the Tennis Center, and one near the beach, and the atmosphere was carnival-like. There were video screens, video games, DJs, soft drinks, plenty of games, so if one adds the professional side to the atmospheric side and people from various countries connecting… it was simply wonderful."
The thousands of athletes who came to town for the Maccabiah games gave local revenues a boost. There was a sharp rise in turnovers of small businesses, such as cafés and restaurants, as well as a rise in revenues of local hotels, where occupancy rate during the games was upwards of 90%. Other factors that led to the increase in revenues were the organized tours and visits at tourist resorts that members of the delegations enjoyed, as well as the parties that marked the occasion, namely the opening ceremony, the beach party and the big youth party at Sammy Ofer Stadium.
Yona Yahav, Mayor of Haifa said, "Haifa delighted in hosting the thousands athletes and visitors who came to the city. The new hotels and the quality sports facilities that were built in the city allowed us to conduct games, competitions and shows that were the closest thing to an Olympic village ever held in Israel".
The Maccabiah events in the city began with a memorial service to the eleven victims of the Munich Massacre, at the light athletics stadium in Nave Sha'anan, where there are a memorial wall and a monument for the murdered athletes. The service was attended by 400 athletes; members of the German delegation to the Maccabiah; German government representatives including Parliamentary State Secretary at the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, Dr Ole Schröder; Germany's Ambassador in Israel Clemens von Goetze; Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav; Maccabiah officials; and family members of the eleven victims of the Munich Massacre. Rabbi Carlos Tapiero, Deputy- Director General & Director of Education of Maccabi World Union, compered the ceremony.
Ankie Spitzer, widow of Andre Spitzer, spoke on behalf of the Israeli Olympic Committee: "45 years have passed since the murders. Our children—who by now became parents themselves—know their fathers only from stories and photographs. Our athletes have gone to Munich with a message of peace and returned in coffins. We ask only one thing, which is that the victims will not be forgotten, as those who do not remember their past are doomed to relive it."
Mayor Yona Yahav said, "If the Games were ceased after the massacre, as should have been done, the horror in Munich will not have been forgotten, and perhaps the world would have learned the unlearned lesson. This act of commemoration is part of our commitment to the victims' families and to Israeli athletes of all times and all generations, that we shall never forget our sons and brothers, murdered at the 1972 Summer Olympics."
PSS Ole Schröder declared that the German Government is committed to fighting anti-Semitism wherever and however it rears its ugly head, and said that that the Maccabiah is the answer to the 1936 Summer Olympics.