One delegation, two systems: Hong Kong and China team off to Maccabiah Games in Israel

A total of 30 athletes in three age categories take part in the ‘Jewish Olympics’, which sees 10,000 participants from 85 countries competing across 41 sports

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 July, 2017, 12:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 July, 2017, 12:29pm

It might not be the divided nations of North and South Korea marching together at next year’s Winter Olympics, but this month’s 20th Maccabiah Games will see Jewish athletes from Hong Kong and China compete as “one delegation, two systems”.

A total of 30 expatriate athletes from the Hong Kong, Macau and China chapter of the Maccabi World Union have headed to Israel this week to take part in the event dubbed the “Jewish Olympics”, which sees more than 10,000 participants from around 85 countries competing across 41 different sports every four years.

The event, which runs from July 4-18, ranks behind only the Olympics and University Games in terms of participation, although the Hong Kong and China delegation is amongst the smallest with the US sending around 1,200 athletes, and Canada, Australia and Argentina at around 650 competitors as well as 2,500 from Israel.

The Hong Kong and China delegation, which is largely representing Hong Kong’s Jewish community of around 5,000 for the fourth time at the Games, includes athletes in the junior, open and masters age categories competing in futsal, athletics, swimming, squash, tennis and chess.

“You have real Olympians going, to age-group athletes who are in it for fun, and our delegation this year is more age-group athletes in it for fun,”said head of delegation Steve Lyons, who is competing in the open futsal team, while his son and daughter are also in action.

“We have some medal chances, we have some quality athletes going, but our expectations are that we won’t do as well as last time as the bar was set pretty high.

“There are three reasons why people are generally going: the love of Israel; being passionate about sports as everyone who is going is an athlete; and also pride in the Jewish community in Hong Kong.

“We are one delegation; one delegation, two systems.”

In 2013, Hong Kong’s 17 athletes won 10 medals, largely down to the efforts of swimmers Ana Scherer and Aaron Zweig.

The delegation has required significant local sponsorship to fund the trip, with athletes required to pay the entry fee, which is around US$4,000 for junior athletes who are staying in the village, plus airfares themselves.

Swimmer Aaron Zweig triumphs in the face of adversity

“For about a week to 10 days you feel like a professional athlete as it really feels like a top-level sporting event. It is a fantastic opportunity to meet athletes from around the world. The standard in some of the sports is absolutely incredible,” said 48-year-old lawyer Jason Webber, who featured on the masters futsal team in 2013, and returns this year as part of the open squad.

“The main reason for me is to represent my country Hong Kong. I have lived in Hong Kong for approximately for 25 years, so it is a tremendous honour to be part of the Hong Kong delegation and represent my country.

“It is all about the participation. Whether you come back with a medal or you don’t, it is all about the participation and the fun and the joining brotherhood of people from around the world in a sportsman-like way.”

Rafael Aharoni, the chairman of the Hong Kong, Macau and China chapter of the Maccabi World Union, will carry the Hong Kong flag at Jerusalem’s 32,000-seat Teddy Stadium on Thursday alongside the China flag, which will be carried by one of the eight members of the mainland group.

The delegation will also meet China’s ambassador in Israel, Zhan Yongxin, during the trip.