Friendship League Profile – Gordon Israel

Hi everybody and welcome to the first of a series of blog posts introducing the people behind the friendship league.  Each week we throw some questions at those of us involved to help give you a better picture of who we are, what we represent and why we do what we do.   In this week’s profile, we hear from HI Friendship League managing partner Gordon Israel.  Check back next week for more!


  1. What is your name?

Gordon Israel


  1. Where do you consider home?

Avignon, France


  1. What’s your favorite sport? Athlete/team?

Rock climbing


  1. How are you involved with the HI Friendship League?

I’m one of HIFL Managing Partners and I strive to ensure the Friendship League keeps growing and thriving over the years while fulfilling its core principle of promoting friendship through the power of sports. It all starts by relentlessly coming up with new ideas and approaches on current and future projects to allow our initiative to build on existing successes and expand its reach and scope. The Friendship League aims to bring lasting changes and perspectives to the lives of remote communities. To our delight the world abounds with populations following alternate social, cultural and economic models throughout all the continents. However, these marginal lifestyles are often jeopardized by the dominant globalized development path and its insatiable appetite for natural resources and lands as well as its move towards greater standardization. We aim to work with local communities to reduce the pressure from global economic development by organizing capacity building and local development programs and by raising awareness about other possible ways of life. Through sports and cultural exchange, HIFL participants are fully immersed in their hosts’ atmosphere and can experience true insights of their everyday lives.


  1. Do you have a favorite sporting memory?

In climbing you are continuously exposed to a certain degree of risk as your life relies on your belayer’s ability to observe, understand and react according to each of your movement during the ascent. This makes each climb very unique and pleasantly frightening. Yet, the real effort is incurred by the climber in his attempt to make it to the top of the route. His ascent is likely to be peppered by various challenging sections that will require him to be fully focused and optimize each of his move to maximize the chances to achieve his project. In that sense, each challenge is associated with a unique memory where performance, surpassing yourself, fear and trust are at stake.


  1. What does sport represent to you?

To me, sport is a universal way of going beyond the physical and mental limits our everyday life is setting. Practiced in a team or alone, it allows people to exchange true intense feelings through introspection, trust and team effort in an inimitable and unbounded language. Its universal dimension makes it the ideal vehicle to bring different cultures together while using the language of sport to communicate, no matter the extent of the cultural gap among participants is.


  1. What aspect of playing sports in a cross-cultural setting excites you?

I truly believe such a cross-cultural setting allows people to go beyond basic prejudices and stereotypes. Players from different horizons also come with their own peculiar approach of practicing their sport and how to play together with their mates. Such a diversity in the perspectives towards sports creates an emulation among players that leads to a unique way to exchange through sport and ultimately to building new odd —though robust and true— friendships.


Even the language barrier which could have been very limiting in our last Pyongyang International Friendship Ice Hockey Exhibition (PIFIHE) 2016, ended up being overcome by to the universal pathways offered by sport.


  1. What do you hope to achieve through your involvement in the HI Friendship League?

I wish each of our events and programs and the Friendship League as a whole, will find its way through the intricacies and hurdles of the current global setting to achieve its goal of having a lasting impact on the lives of remote communities by promoting dialogue and improving local capacity while opening the mind of foreign participants. We aim to achieve all this through a respectful, educational and playful attitude when we provide an unforgettable experience to our participants who share our passion about the world and its people.

The HI Friendship League has the potential to reach to remote communities and shed the light on their alternate social, cultural and economic lifestyles. Allowing them to participate in our programs, often only possible in this context, is our commitment to ensuring their traditions will survive our century of standardization.


  1. Why did you feel that it was important to support/promote disability sports through the HI Friendship League?

Our experiences, existing partners and projects led us to focus on supporting people with intellectual disability. We were also pleasantly surprise to receive positive feedbacks and to see true interest in our program during our first event in the DPRK, when local officials made it possible to organize a capacity building event with children with intellectual disabilities. Since then we dedicate all our events and programs to this particular cause. We indeed believe sport provides people with disabilities the opportunity to find their own place in society through discovering new strengths and talents therefore making their living healthier, happier and longer.


  1. Is there a future event you would like to see included in the HI Friendship League?

While rock climbing has not yet been represented in the Friendship League, we have already initiated discussions and submitted several proposals to the DPRK authorities. It would be a ground-breaking step forward if we would manage to introduce rock climbing in North Korea in its many forms being indoor climbing, bouldering or outdoor climbing.


With a smart and innovative approach, we believe the DPRK has the potential to foster the development of vertical activities throughout its spectacular natural sites as well as in dedicated climbing centres or existing infrastructures such as sport centres and universities. International events and technical training related to vertical sports would also greatly benefit to the country’s local economic growth following a sustainable approach for eco-tourism development.


  1. Is there anything else you want the world to know?

As a special note on our flagship project with the DPRK, I believe it is important to stress on the fact that we fully assume our stand of challenging the current dominant approach that consists in refusing dialogue and exchange. Quite the contrary we are confident the way forward lies in bringing people together to understand each other better and that sport is an ideal vehicle to initiate this change.