Israeli Player Elevates Sports Over Politics

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Israeli Player Elevates Sports Over Politics
Jul 2, 2017

Eilat, Israel —  At 6 feet 10 inches tall, Georgiy Osadchyy stands out not only by his stature, but also through his actions.

From 2010-13, the Ukranian-born Israeli citizen played in the Friendship Games in Eilat, Israel, for the team representing his home country since 2001.

Yet, as the 12th annual Friendship Games play out this week, Osadchyy has assumed a different – and unlikely – role for the third consecutive year: He’s playing for the Palestinian team.

This gesture is no betrayal. In fact, it epitomizes the purpose of the Friendship Games, a  week-long international tournament that aims to make progress toward peace through basketball among teams representing Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

“They don’t care about who I am,” said, Osadchyy, 35. “It just depends what kind of person I am. That’s it.”

While Osadchyy attended his first Friendship Games nearly a decade ago as a member of the Israeli Jewish team, his basketball life in Israel began much earlier.

In 2001, Osadchyy moved to the country to play for Hapoel Jerusalem Basketball Club of the Israeli Premier League. The move came during the Second Intifada, a four-year period of increased tension and violence between Israelis and Palestinians, and he didn’t know too much about the relationship between the two groups.

“Back then I was thinking, ‘What the hell is going on over here?’” Osadchyy said. “I don’t get it. Why?”

After more than a decade of living in Israel, a three-year professional basketball career and four years participating in the Friendship Games, Osadchyy had just about exhausted his days of playing basketball.

Still, he was determined to stay involved with the event.

“He called me every month, ‘Do you have a place for me? Please take me, I love the Friendship Games,” Games organizer Eden Carmi said.

And when a spot opened, Osadchyy seized it. After a one-year absence, he returned to the Games as a staff member in 2015.

Working as a driver for the tournament, Osadchyy saw an opportunity to do something even more unique than just bringing different nations together. After the Palestinian squad suffered a brutal loss in its first game, Osadchyy wanted to help.

“I asked [Carmi] two years ago if I could play with them for a few games because they were like terrible,” Osadchyy said. “She said yeah, and then other Israeli guys came and said, ‘Can we play with them also?’ A few Israelis played with Palestin[ians]. It was okay. It was fun.”

Now, in his third Games wearing a Palestinian uniform, Osadchyy says it’s an amicable situation for both his home and his temporary teammates.

“They don’t care when I’m playing with them,” he said. “They’re happy that I want to help them.”

At the Friendship Games, Osadchyy is one of the event’s biggest personalities, and often the life of the party.

“He’s always smiling with people, he’s never fighting. If there’s some kind of conflict between people, he’s always there to [break it up,]” Carmi said. “When we need help or anything, he’s there, 100 percent there… …it’s fun because of him, he’s magic.”

He can be seen not only supporting his teammates on the court, but also increasing the excitement at the Games’ cultural events.

As tournament participants took in a yacht trip last Friday evening on the Red Sea, they self-segregated by nation once on board.

Before the trip ended, however, passengers from all countries had joined together on the dance floor on the yacht’s upper deck. Osadchyy was at the center of it all, imploring the DJ play the hit song “Coco,” by O.T. Genasis. He enthusiastically lifted others nearly seven feet off the ground onto his husky shoulders.

“It’s fun, it’s nothing more than fun,” Osadchyy said. “I speak with these guys, some of them speak Hebrew a little bit, some of them speak English. They’re ok. You see here, after the games, they’re sitting all together, a lot of people don’t give a [expletive] about who the hell you are [or] where you’re from.”

While he enjoys the Friendship Games, and the bonding interactions that come with it, Osadchyy is skeptical of peace. Yet, he remains hopeful.

“It’s not the people who don’t what the peace, the politics don’t want the peace,” he said. “I think people from that side and this side, [they’ve had] enough of what’s going on.”

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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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