The term legend is regularly misused in the world of sport. But in Jewish terms, the evergreen Pete Lazard believes that if the cap fits, he can wear it.
But while the scale of the Games — the third largest sporting event in the world — has reached new heights this year, Lazard believes that it has become a case of quantity rather than quality.
“From the quality, kudos point of view and profile, I think the publicity in Israel is much lower key than it was when I first went,” he said.
“We had athletes such as Mark Spitz carrying the torch, top athletes participating who would eventually play at the highest levels in their sport, including some American tennis girls who went on to play at Wimbledon.
“Every evening the day’s highlights would be on TV and newspaper coverage was extensive. The whole country used to watch the opening ceremony on TV and the Israelis were incredibly proud and thrilled to have the top Jewish sportsman in their midst and hoped to entice the next Tal Brody to come on Aliyah.
“Local basketball and football scouts would watch the games as the Maccabiah used to be a shop window of opportunity for young sports people. Now the only televised event is the opening ceremony.
“It has definitely become a lot bigger in numbers and a lot more obscure countries have started to participate which is great. Nowadays, I think that it’s a lot easier to represent your country and so it is not as big an achievement and as prestigious.”
And while many athletes will be taking part in their first Maccabiah Games, it will be just another day out for Lazard, a veteran of six.
Lazard, 47, has achieved something quite rare in representing two countries. He debuted for South Africa playing futsal in 1985 and has since worn the colours of Great Britain. Having gone home with bronze in his cricket whites in 1989, he helped the futsal team finish third in 1993 when they beat Brazil to become the first and only GB open side to win a medal since the early 1960s.
1989 was a special year as he lined up against his brother, cricketer Terence, who was playing for South Africa. And in 2001, he played against some of his childhood friends from Cape Town in the Masters football tournament.
The Maccabiah Games veteran also captained the futsal team in 1997 and fondly remembers beating Argentina to land gold at the 2007 Pan American Games in Buenos Aires. The 18th Maccabiah Games Chai will see Lazard line-up for the Over-45 Masters football team and he is also looking forward to seeing his nephew playing for SA juniors’ cricket team, making him the third Lazard to participate at the Games.
A finance director for a leading sports agency, the father-of-two, moved to London in 1989. He enjoys the sporting and social aspects of the Maccabiah. “As a South African I am naturally competitive and always try my best to win,” he said. “I tend to get fit and motivated in the season leading up to each Maccabiah. I do not train very much at all and during the season. I maintain my fitness by my healthy eating habits.
“I don’t eat or drink things like chocolates, crisps, red meat, cheese, milk, fizzy drinks and caffeine. I have been doing this for about 10 years now. It takes a lot of discipline. In fact my wedding suit from 15 years ago is now too big for me.
“I learnt early on in my career the importance of being mentally prepared. Playing sport correctly is all about being in the zone of tunnelled focus and concentration, knowing what your goals are and actually visualising what you are trying to achieve whether it is winning a match or winning gold.”
A number of elite sportsman including American Olympic gold medal winning swimmer Jason Lezak are competing in Israel. Lazard has also rubbed shoulders with some top players over the years.
“In club cricket in Cape Town for Green Point, one standard below county cricket, I lined up alongside ex-internationals Alan Lamb, Alan Igglesden and Omar Henry.
“In football, my biggest influences were Stuart Leary, Frank Lord and ex-England star Budgie Byrne. I played semi-professional. The league was very competitive and I played against the likes of Richard Gough, Roy Wegerle and Mich D’avery who all played successfully in the old First Division.
“I also captained my University and represented South Africa Universities at the Currie Cup competitions which was the highest possible amateur football to play.”
With a strong competitive edge, he believes that the Maccabiah should be reserved for the cream of the crop. “I probably err on the side of competitiveness and keeping the Maccabiah elitist. Although playing to win, I always play fairly and within the rules and believe that the Maccabiah is a special time for fellow Jews from the Diaspora to meet and compete fairly and squarely.
“I detest the fact that sometimes tempers flare and massive brawls arise between fellow Jews. Bad sportsmanship at this showpiece of world Jewry should be stamped out and the guilty parties served life bans.
“We have enough antisemitism when we compete in our own countries and it dismays me to see ill-discipline and fighting at the Maccabiah.”
There are memories that will stay with him forever.
“In 1985, we had to hide the fact that we were from South Africa and were treated as secondary citizens by plenty of our fellow Jews from the Diaspora. We played the competition under constant fear of being kicked out because we were from South Africa.
“Then there was the flower bomb at the closing ceremony in 1989 at the Wailing Wall when Orthodox Jews disapproved of our presence at the wall.”
But this pails into insignificance in comparison to his darkest hour in 1997. Lining up for the opening ceremony, he stood just yards away as the Bridge disaster unravelled.
The opening ceremony is always a time of massive excitement and anticipation and when the first countries start marching in, the adrenalin starts pumping and 1997 was no different .
I remember a South African cricketer telling me that he had walked over this rather flimsy bridge to get into our holding pen and didn’t think anything more about it.
“I could not understand when suddenly people started saying that marching had stopped and we were waiting for the Australians to go through.
“News began to filter through that the bridge had collapsed and soon, we started to hear about possible deaths amongst the Australians and the numbers and names started flying around.
“It was extremely scary that a Jewish celebration was being spoiled by the death unnecessary death of Jews in the time of their own joyous celebration.
“For the rest of the night and the following day we were all in a complete daze and the first day of competition became a day of mourning and rumour of whether the completion would continue.
“The Maccabiah changed forever after this and a measure of mistrust has seeped in about the Israelis and their handling of the Games.”
As for his recipe for success. A grass drink made up of water and grass powder is the secret behind his longevity at the top level of Jewish sport. It has earned him some strange looks in the changing room before matches and Lazard admits: “It tastes like crap as it looks like mud but keeps me going and looking forward to one day playing at the Maccabiah with my kids.”