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Russians will compete in this year’s Maccabiah Games, but Russia won’t

Organizers claim Russia and Belarus withdrew four months ago, a day after UK’s Jewish News highlighted website entry showing Russia to play Ukraine in women’s beach volleyball

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Jewish athletes participating in the 20th Maccabiah Games wave their national flag during the opening ceremony in Jerusalem, July 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Jewish athletes participating in the 20th Maccabiah Games wave their national flag during the opening ceremony in Jerusalem, July 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Russian and Belarusian delegations to next month’s Maccabiah Games in Israel withdrew themselves from the massive international event, the organizers said Wednesday.

The announcement came after a report Tuesday in the UK’s Jewish News that a Russian team had been drawn to compete against Ukraine in the women’s beach volleyball event, which would be a deeply uncomfortable situation given Moscow’s ongoing invasion of the country that has killed thousands of Ukrainian civilians.

A spokesperson for the Maccabiah Games denied the report, saying Russia would not be participating in that event or indeed in the games, and that the story appeared to be based on an “administrative error” on the Maccabiah website.

The Maccabiah Games will be held across Israel from July 12 to 26, and they are projected to be one of the largest sporting events ever. Some 10,000 Jewish athletes from about 60 countries are expected to compete in dozens of sports at facilities throughout the country. For comparison, roughly 11,000 athletes took part in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

According to the spokesperson, the Russian delegation withdrew from the event four months ago — which would mean at around the time Russia invaded Ukraine. It was not immediately clear when the Belarusian team pulled out.

A spokesperson for the Maccabiah said the choice to withdraw from the competition was made by the countries’ delegations of their own accord. They did so before the organizing committee had decided whether or not to allow the Russian delegation to compete in light of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, the spokesperson said. Russia and Russian sportspeople have been banned from other international competitions for this reason.

As of this Wednesday afternoon, however, both Russia and Belarus were still listed as participants on the Maccabiah’s official website. The listing that showed Russia competing against Ukraine in women’s beach volleyball, highlighted and screenshot by the UK Jewish News on Tuesday, had been removed, however.

The listing for Russia and other participating countries on the Maccabiah Games website, June 29, 2022 (Screenshot)

Despite the official delegations bowing out, some Russian and Belarusian athletes will still compete in the games.

In part to accommodate athletes from these countries, the Maccabiah will host a new “Olim” team — olim being the Hebrew word for Jewish immigrants to Israel. New immigrant athletes from Armenia, Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ukraine, the United States and other countries will also play on the “Olim” team, a spokesperson said.

Members of this new team will appear under the flag of the Maccabiah, not their birth countries. The “Olim” team will have “no association to Russia and the Russian flag,” she said.

The Maccabiah is typically held every four years. It was meant to have taken place in 2021, but the games were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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