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20 years on: Why Australia competes in the Pan-American Games

Posted: 27-Feb-2019 by PanAm Games 2019

In July, Australia will send its largest-ever contingent to the Maccabi Pan-American Games in a journey that marks 20 years since the nation started properly participating in the global competition.

Prior to the 1999 edition of the Games, Australia had only ever sent one or two individuals to compete, but a range of reasons prompted the green and gold to begin a greater involvement in the event that has been known to reach 3000 participants.

If there’s anyone who truly understands the journey our athletes will go on as they take to Mexico City, it's Harry Procel. The veteran administrator and masters golfer will attend his fifth Pan-American Games this year and is utilising his expertise as a consultant.

Harry Procel will be attending his 5th PanAm Games this year

Procel has extensive experience with Maccabi on a world-scale and has headed up a number of international delegations to a variety of events. He recalls the events that led to Australia increasing their participation in the Games.

“The history is, you have a Maccabiah every four years in the year after the Olympics and then you have two other major Maccabi events,” Procel told

“What happens is in between the Maccabiah there are usually two other games being the European Maccabi Games and the Pan-American Games. So what’s happened over the years, and this is prior to 1999, Australia had usually one or two people going along as individuals because of our involvement at Maccabi World Union and because people like to invite Australia to most games.

 “From 1999, we were always invited, but Australia decided to send teams in a more major way. Part of the reason was the bridge tragedy that happened in Israel, we were looking for somewhere else to be involved. Louis Platus took a team of about 50 to the 1999 American Games and that was in Mexico City.

1999: 50 
2003: 100
2007: 70
2011: 40
2015: 6
2019: 130+

“Part of that was senior carnival was on as well, the last one was 2003. When we had our own annual event there was less of a need to do other activities like the Euro Games and the PanAms because we had our own event every year. But unfortunately, as they waned we needed other activities to keep our athletes going, besides normal club competition, to get involved with.”

Procel helmed the Aussie delegation in 2003 and has been to every iteration since, as the team continued to grow. Last time out, he had the distinct honour of carrying the flag into the opening ceremony over in Santiago, Chile.

With extensive experience across the Maccabi international landscape, Procel is better placed than most to assess the significance of these games. And he believes this experience is a key waypoint towards a strong performance at the next Maccabiah in 2021.

“This is a major building block like it was in 2005, this is a big building block for Sam Gamsu, Giselle Berlinski and Maccabi Australia for 2021,” he said.

“You’ll be taking juniors again which is hopefully going to be successful and its very much developmental towards Maccabiah. And gives some athletes the opportunity who wouldn’t go to Israel, and athletes who are developmental towards Maccabiah some other international experience.”

Volleyball at the 2011 PanAm Games

The Pan-American Games provides a more tight-knit team atmosphere for our Aussie athletes, who get the opportunity to be housed in one location and to get out and support their compatriots in competition.

But according to Procel, one of the main highlights of the experience is the chance to compete in Mexico’s state-of-the-art community centre which is hailed as world-leading.

“I’ve seen through my involvement in Europe and in the States and other major communal centres in South America, this one in Mexico is by far the best in the world,” he said.

“It’s amazing, it’s unbelievable. You’ll find the Mexico community is very close, quite similar to the Melbourne community in many ways, very tight. When they have an opening ceremony the majority of the community gets behind it, you can get 15 or 20,000 people to an opening ceremony of 40 or 45000.”

Harry Procel will attend his fifth Pan-American Games in Mexico as a masters golfer as the largest ever Australian delegation compete.