With a new open water swim and the Maccabiah Games pre-camp and hub, Haifa is off to a head start on its way to become an international sports center. In the past year and a half, Haifa hosted several major sports competitions, including the 470 Open National Championships at the Reuven Sadnai Sailing Center, and an international Judo tournament, which is turning into a local tradition.
This time around it attracted more than 50 youths from twin cities, including two in China, and over 70 other Judo Association members from 11 cities around the world, including from the US and Canada, not a trivial matter at all, considering the distance.
Deputy Director of the Municipal Sports Authority Yossi Zarfati, and Events Coordinator Nir Shaul, though obviously pleased, consider this merely the beginning of the way.
"Last year we also launched an international open water swim, from Rambam Hospital to Dado Beach, an amazing event. It so happened that we had ended up with just three swimmers from abroad, because the competition was rescheduled due to water conditions, but ten swimmers from San Francisco already registered for the upcoming event. One has to bear in mind that in San Francisco, for example, the water temperature is 18 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, and so for them to swim here, where the water temperature is 24, is like having a Jacuzzi. The sea in Haifa is ideal for surfing and swimming and boating; the 470 Championships was a significant event on a global scale. We will probably have guests from New Jersey and Europe as well, and the swim is going to be fun, a happening.
"Our intention is that in two or three years' time, there will be a significant participation of athletes from cities around the world in every major sports event in the city. People come for several reasons, the first being affinity with the specific event. Take for example open water swims. If five years ago this sort of thing hardly existed, today it is one of the greatest trends.
"When people come here to attend an event we offer them a whole package: accommodation, excursions, leisure; a holistic experience. If it is a half marathon, say, it is not only the run, but also the fun. Our goal is to give the participants a good time, get them to know the city. Therefore, if they are Jewish, we can take them to Jewish sites and on a day tour of Jerusalem, and if they are Christian, we can take them for a day tour of Nazareth, but anyway it is important for us that their headquarters will be in Haifa.
"The next big event is the Maccabiah, of course. Between 27 June and 18 July, athletes of all ages will fill the city. We will dedicate all our sports facilities to accommodate these delegations, with extra personnel, security, and transportation, etc. Over 2,000 youths are due to arrive in here, Israelis included, as well as additional guests: If there are two thousand youngsters, we can safely assume that 10-15 percent of their parents will come to stay with the athletes for some of the time at least, so local hotels are expecting near full capacity.
During the pre-camp stage, we will host 700 athletes from Australia, 150 from Germany and 200 Canadians, for four final days of preparation before the games. Once the pre-camp is over and the Maccabiah itself commences, on July 4, we open a youth village for Maccabiah participants, a hub situated in the area of the tennis courts, Avi Ran Center and the Sportan Club. Apart from that, we are building a beachfront complex, in the southern part of Leonardo Beach that will become the Maccabiah Beach.
"This whole thing will culminate in two events – one on the Quiet Beach, and one at the Sami Ofer Stadium Square, with a crowd of 2,000 youths from the Maccabiah and 2,000 teenagers from Haifa, with performances by Skazi, Mayumana and others. In short, we will give them everything of everything, and make sure that they will really enjoy it here."