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Povich Center Coverage of Friendship Games: The ‘Miracle’ of Sports

Friendship Games in Eilat, Israel

Photo: Alex Flum (’18)

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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Povich Center at Friendship Games: Student-run Irish team enjoys ride

Friendship Games in Eilat, Israel

Photo: Alex Flum (’18)

By Julia Karron
For the Povich Center

EILAT, ISRAEL — The Ireland team has looked like a familiar guest at the 13th annual Friendship Games. Its players joined peers aboard a cruise last Saturday night on the Red Sea. Afterward, when the teams retreated to their hotel, the Ireland players were right in the middle of things when the low-key evening took a rambunctious turn.

With Tarab Shaabi’s “Jenno Wo Netto” pumping through the speakers on the hotel’s ground floor, the Ireland players led an international mosh pit of sorts, which brought together – literally – the diverse cultures competing here.

Just maybe not in the way Games organizers had planned, but it proved, Ireland co-captain Manus Darby said, that “alcohol and music overcome language barriers.”


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.


Ireland’s barriers to entry for the Friendship Games, having appeared in one Friendship Games since the inaugural tournament in 2006, included lack of funding, lack of interest in basketball and no coach.

But Trinity College of Dublin, one of Ireland’s most academically rigorous colleges, is here at the Friendship Games, and not simply for the scenery. Despite Ireland’s reputation for being “historically bad at basketball,” according to Darby, that did not stop this team from enjoying the ride.

The team embraced its motto – “We came here to take, not to make” – according to Robbie Fidgeon-Kavanagh, its other co-captain. Ireland finished the tournament 1-3.

But basketball is not what attracted Trinity’s players to the college. Earlier this year, U.S. News and World Report ranked Trinity as No. 103 overall college in Europe, the highest ranking for an Irish institution.

“No one has ever said, ‘I want to go to Trinity to play basketball,’” Fidgeon-Kavanagh said.

Darby is still “not fully sure” why they’re at the games, but he and Fidgeon-Kavanagh have speculated. One theory Darby had was that the head of Trinity sport, Michelle Tanner, was leaving the European University Sport Association, and was then “offered a place for Trinity in this tournament.”

Another theory posits that professor and benefactor, Seamas Donnelly, prodded the head of Trinity sport to ask for a place in the tournament rather than having EUSA formally give Trinity the spot in the tournament.

Regardless of how Trinity earned its lucky break, its tournament experience has faced plenty of challenges. There are only seven players on the roster for the Games, and while Tal Salman, the attache assigned to the team by Games organizers also bears the title of coach, Fidgeon-Kavanaugh said the team “is pretty student-run … Between me and Manus, we run Trinity basketball.”

That means that lineups, timeouts, and talking with the referees is a team effort. Since Salman has stepped in during the Friendship Games, Darby noted he’s quick to offer advice, but mostly lets the players observe what’s going on and then talks to the referees on their behalf.

The team actually had a coach selected before leaving Ireland, but, Fidgeon-Kavanagh said that he “was absolutely … terrible,” and the players chose to go without a coach.

“He would call time out when we didn’t need to,” said Fidgeon-Kavanagh, and would only call two plays. “His practices were like kiddy shooting drills,” he added, rolling his eyes.

But that is not much of a change from how the team operates back home. Basketball, according to Darby, is probably the fifth- or sixth-most popular sport on campus, behind some of Ireland’s most popular pastimes – rugby, gaelic football, field hockey and rowing.

As a result, basketball often gets meager resources. Their coach is a part-time position, so the players often self-coach, except for the rare evening games.

“We’ve played without a coach quite often actually,” he said, “Our coach usually has a day job.”

When Darby was making the budget for all four of Trinity’s club basketball teams, two men and two women’s, he asked the College for “$13,000 for the entire year and I got $6,000.” That gap is made up by membership fees that players pay at the start of the season.

But basketball is starting to become more popular on campus. The team is starting to get three recruiting scholarships per year, and Fidgeon-Kavanagh said he has to contact those people in the next few weeks.

And the experience of the Friendship Games will help recruitment.

“First year students are always interested in what trips and opportunities our club can offer them,” Darby said.

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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Merrill College Students Covering Friendship Games in Israel

Friendship Games in Eilat, Israel

Photo: Alex Flum (’18)

Diplomacy meets basketball at 2018 Friendship Games

By Julia Karron and Chloe Pavlech
For the Povich Center
June 21, 2018

EILAT, ISRAEL — In 2005, after seeing generations of children from neighboring countries and cultures grow up amid conflict, Ed Peskowitz and Arie Rosenzweig tried a novel approach to diplomacy – a basketball tournament.

It would seem counterintuitive that more competition would calm tensions, but, as the 13th annual Friendship Games tips off Thursday in Eilat, Israel, both men can see their unorthodox method has yielded unquestionable success.

What began as a tournament of men’s teams from eight nations has now grown to a week-long event that has added a women’s field and features teams from the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Furthermore, it has become increasingly defined less by what happens on the court and more by the cross-cultural exposure and interaction for the participants.


Three University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism students are covering the Friendship Games in Eilat, Israel, this month through a partnership with the event’s organizers and The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. This is the first of their stories, which will be published on the Merrill College and Povich Center websites.


“Ed’s dream of friendship through sport has become a reality to all who have participated,” Rosenzweig said in an email. He remains the Friendship Games’ organizer.

Peskowitz said: “The guiding principle is to foster and embrace ideas and programs that underscore peaceful existence.”

Despite the camaraderie espoused by the games, the event still occurs in perhaps the world’s most tenuously secure region. In fact, participants from some nations do not even tell their families or friends of their whereabouts because some nations’ governments or cultures consider the mere act of visiting an enemy country – let alone interacting with those citizens – tantamount to treason.

As a result, event organizers do not release the names of participating teams until after the start of the event.

Last year, the field included teams from Jordan, Palestine, Germany, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania. Additionally, Israel boasted four teams: one Jewish, one Palestinian, one Arab and one comprised of players from Eilat.

The University of Tel-Aviv Israeli team was last year’s champion in the women’s division while the team from Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania took home the men’s trophy. Lithuania has now won back-to-back Friendship Games in the men’s division. In 2016, both the men’s and women’s team from Lithuania took home championships.

Together, Peskowitz and Rosenzweig knew not only the passion that sports can elicit, but also how to pull off a multi-national event. Peskowitz was a former co-owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. Rosenzweig, meantime, co-founded the North American Maccabiah Youth Games and also served as general secretary of Israel’s Olympic Committee from 2000 to 2008, and as athletic director of Tel Aviv University. Peskowitz was an assistant basketball coach at the 2005 Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Upon meeting one another, Peskowitz told Rosenzweig that the basketball court could be a place where young adults could “compete, socialize and … get to know each other.”

In addition to having participants eat meals together, as the games have grown, event organizers have added cross-cultural events off the court, ranging from visits to holy sites across Israel to evening dance parties and boat rides.

Put it all together and the event has helped create friendships that last long after the games end.

“Due to the great development of social media, in many instances, the participants became friends for life,” said Rosenzweig.

That friendship changes the attitudes of Israeli, Palestinian and Arab players towards each other. 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 opposing countries from negative to positive, “indicating that the Friendship Games does indeed meet its stated purpose of promoting peace and coexistence through sports.”

“Each year the Games are proof of the power of sports to bridge the gaps of religion, nationality and political borders,” Rosenzweig said.

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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