Coe runs the rule over Olympic Jews

By James Martin, May 14, 2009
Constructive views: Sir Maurice Hatter and Haifa University President Professor Aaron Ben-Zeev at the Olympic site in Stratford

Constructive views: Sir Maurice Hatter and Haifa University President Professor Aaron Ben-Zeev at the Olympic site in Stratford

Lord Coe praised the “British-Jewish” Olympic heritage as he outlined his vision for the London 2012 Games to British Friends of Haifa University supporters on Tuesday evening.

The London 2012 organising committee chair reminded audience members — some of whom had taken a bus tour of the Olympic site in Stratford — of the achievements of Harold Abrahams.

Abrahams took gold at the 1924 Games and his story is told in the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire. The peer also highlighted the sporting influence of Sir Arthur Gold, who chaired the British Olympic Association from 1988 to 1992.

Lord Coe expected Israel to be “particularly strongly represented — and the sporting, cultural, educational and community links that we can build are a vital legacy of the 2012 Games.”

He drew a parallel between the aims of the London organisers “to inspire change across our community” and the work of Haifa University, “which has been the catalyst for long-term social change”.

And although the Olympic movement had been a key contributor to building harmonious relations between nations, Lord Coe acknowledged that “sport and Olympic athletes do not live in a vacuum. The terrible events at Munich in 1972 [when Israeli Olympians were massacred by Palestinian terrorists] show how hatred and terror can remain”.

The St John’s Wood reception also celebrated a new student building at Haifa University, principally funded by British philanthropist Sir Maurice Hatter and his wife Irene.

Speaking afterwards, Lord Coe stressed organisers’ efforts to meet the dietary and worshipping requirements of Jewish athletes and officials. “The Olympic movement respects all faiths and cultures, as does London, and these Games will reflect that.” With regard to ensuring the safety of Israeli competitors, “all athletes will be protected by British security services, who will, of course, take advice from their counterparts abroad”.

He also recalled a visit to the Maccabiah Games in the 1980s — “a very impressive event which features some world-class athletes.”

Israeli International Olympic Committee member Alex Gilady was among those taken on the tour of the Olympic site and praised the progress made in construction. “There’s no comparison to Athens, which fell way behind schedule, and even Beijing had not got so far ahead.” He expected the finished stadium “to be superb”.

Lord Coe also this week performed the official opening of the state-of-the-art London Hillel Student Centre in Euston, which is used by up to 150 students daily. UJS-Hillel chief executive Daniel Marcus said that such projects “protect our community’s future. Student centres are a hub for developing leadership.”

Last updated: 12:35pm, May 14 2009