At least the event was a winner

By Danny Caro, July 23, 2009

So, the 18th Maccabiah Games have drawn to a close. You would have thought that the presence of Olympic swimmer Jason Lezak, World Cup winner Sir Bobby Charlton and Jo Ankier would have helped pull in the crowds.

But despite the enormity of the event, there was a significant number of Israelis who did not understand what all the fuss was about.

The locals were intrigued as to why thousands of Jews from the Disapora had invaded their country. But word certainly got around to the cab drivers who were rubbing their hands and charging inflated prices every time an athlete got in.

Overall, the organisation, sporting venues and time-keeping was impressive, but the stewarding had much to be desired. I lost count of the number of times that I was told “this is Israel”.

Health and safety was another issue. As mentioned last week, the youth village at Neve Hadassah in Netanya was a living nightmare but the youngsters had a result as they went from hell to heaven with a luxurious upgrade to the Regency in Jerusalem. What alarmed me most was the hazards at the cricket venues. There were metal goalposts on the boundary in Lod. I was advised to avoid the area, described by a local as “the drugs capital of Israel”.

There was also a ridiculous slope in the outfield while the long-jump sandpits, hammer net and running track inside the rope at Hadar Yosef kept the fielders on their toes.

On the whole, the GB squad conducted themselves superbly on and off the pitch. But not everyone played ball. Some competitors were caught up in heat of the moment.

Futsal player James Steele was headbutted by an Israeli. There was also a mass brawl in the boys youth semi-final between Russia and Argentina. Russia won 2-1 but attempting the post-match handshake, they were met with punches and flying water bottles.

The Games are supposed to provide a sporting and social environment for like-minded Jews, but the words of referee Lilach Acolim summed up the flavour of some of the action. After sending off two Brazilians in the Ladies football match against GB, she said: “The girls didn’t come to play football. They came to kill each other.”

My favourite quote goes to Marc Magid of the GB Over 35 futsal squad. After bagging a brace against Mexico, he bragged: “I’m the best thing to come out of Manchester since the M6.”

With GB athletes paying just under £3,000 to compete, spare a thought for those who did not get many minutes on the pitch.

Last updated: 4:05pm, July 23 2009