By Julia Karron, Chloe Pavlech, and Joe Malandruccolo
For The Povich Center
July 20, 2018

EILAT, ISRAEL — At the closing ceremony of the 13th annual Friendship Games, college-aged basketball players from Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Lithuania and Germany sat on the sand of the Red Sea and watched a slideshow of photos and videos taken during the tournament.

Interspersed between images of on-court action and cultural events ranging from rock climbing to banana boating were videos of players singing along to Rag’n’Bone Man’s “Human.” The players’ voices echoed the lyric, “I’m only human after all / don’t put the blame on me.”

The words symbolized the ultimate goal of the tournament, which ran from June 21-28: to create lifelong friendships across borders through the sport of basketball, despite decades-long conflicts among some of the countries.

Three University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism students covered the Friendship Games in Eilat, Israel, this summer through a partnership with the event’s organizers and The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism.

It’s a vision that has been a dream of tournament co-founder Arie Rosenzweig.

“The language of sport is so strong that after one week they are crying when they depart,” Rosenzweig said.

But the gaps aren’t just bridged during the weeklong tournament in Eilat, Israel. After the festivities end, “due to the great development of social media, in many instances, the participants became friends for life,” Rosenzweig said.

After the final night, where players danced under the stars on the Red Sea to a mix of American, Arab and Israeli pop hits and vigorously chanted “one more song!” and “we’re not leaving!” at nearly 1:30 a.m., friend requests on Facebook and follows on Instagram were popular on the bus rides back to the hotel.

By all accounts, this celebration of sport and friendship was “one of the best parties ever,” according to Ronnen Tin, the social events manager for the games.

But this tournament and ensuing party did not come without anxiety. Getting some of the players players to Israel required some creativity, Rosenzweig explained, including special permission for some competitors to attend.

But according to one player, who requested anonymity, attending the games was worth it.

“We were so scared when we came the first year,” he said. “But after we saw Israel, and we have a [lot] of fun, we made a [lot] of friends and playing basketball against teams from Europe. It was very good experience.”

In a study published by the World Leisure Journal in 2014, athletes who participated in the Friendship Games changed their previous attitudes of athletes from some other countries from negative to positive, “indicating that the Friendship Games does indeed meet its stated purpose of promoting peace and coexistence through sports.”

These particular games, said Rosensweig, are “the miracle of what sports could do for people from different religions, different countries, different languages.”

As Rag’n’Bone Man would say, these players are only human after all.

The event’s organizers sponsored student coverage of the Friendship Games. Editorial control of the coverage and content remained with The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism.

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