World Games: Israel sending over 50 athletes to Birmingham

The Israeli delegation visits the home of Israel President Isaac Herzog, with those participating in martial arts showing that they are ready.

by Larry Brook

(Israel InSight) — Over 50 Israeli athletes will be in Birmingham this month to compete in the World Games, including competing in a team sport for the first time.

The World Games, held every four years, will be held in venues around Birmingham from July 7 to 17. Over 3,600 international athletes from 110 countries will take part in over 200 medal competitions in 34 sports, most of which are not on the Olympic roster.

Numerous sports are familiar to American audiences, including archery, billiards, bowling, gymnastics, lacrosse, karate, flag football, water skiing, squash, softball and racquetball. Others are lesser known, such as boules, finswimming, fistball, korfball, Muaythai and Wushu.

Israel will compete in Acrobatics, DanceSport, Jiu-Jitsu, Kickboxing, Lacrosse, Muay Thai, Rhythmic Gymnastics, Sport Climbing, Wakeboard and Wushu.

Israel’s men’s and women’s lacrosse teams both qualified for the eight-nation tournament. Israel hosted the flag football qualifiers in December, and there were high hopes that Israel would place in the top eight, earning a spot in Birmingham — but they came in ninth.

The Birmingham Jewish community is holding a reception for the Israeli team at Temple Beth-El on July 14. Because of security concerns, pre-registration is required.

There are several Americans on the lacrosse teams, including former Birminghamian Olivia Mannon, who made Aliyah earlier this year.

Arik Kaplan, president and CEO of Ayelet, the Federation of Non-Olympic Competitive Sport in Israel, said Israel is bringing a delegation of high-level athletes to Birmingham, and hopes that the World Games will help draw attention and support to non-Olympic sports in Israel.

The delegation visited the home of Israel President Isaac Herzog, who said “you are a huge source of pride. We’d love to see you come back with medals.”

Founded in 1980, the World Games is a non-governmental body under Swiss law that holds a major international competition every four years, consisting of sports that are not represented in the Olympics, but, in many cases, are working their way into the Olympics.

This is the first time the World Games have been held in the United States since the inaugural games in Santa Clara, Calif. in 1981. Host cities use existing sports venues, rather than building new facilities for the games.

The World Games were organized to provide a venue even higher than the world championships organized by each member sport, and to develop the international popularity of those sports.

In 2016, the International World Games Association signed an updated Memorandum of Understanding with the International Olympic Committee, to further cooperation between the two.

From 1993 to 2014, Ron Froehlich, an active member of Birmingham’s Jewish community, was international president of the World Games.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus have been barred from participating in the 2022 World Games because of the Russian war on Ukraine. Originally, 62 Russians and 11 Belarus athletes were to compete.

The Russians originally were going to compete as “Russian Olympic Committee” rather than Russia because of penalties previously administered by the International Olympic Committee due to a state-sponsored doping program. Those penalties extend to the end of 2022, and The World Games are considered to be affiliated with the IOC.

A portion of ticket revenue from the Games in Birmingham will be donated to Ukraine for the rebuilding of sports venues damaged or destroyed by the Russian invasion.

It is estimated that at least 400,000 and perhaps 1 million people will come through Birmingham during the Games.