JERUSALEM (VN) — Giro d’Italia officials are hopeful the focus will remain on bike racing when the Italian grand tour starts in Israel for its 2018 edition.
Officials downplayed the possibility of politics becoming an issue as the Giro takes its “Big Start” beyond the European realm for the first time with three stages in Israel in May.
Speaking to VeloNews on Monday following the official announcement of three days of racing in Israel, Giro director Mauro Vegni said politics was not a major part of the conversation with Israeli officials.
“There are some difficulties about coming to Israel, but they are logistical, not political,” Vegni said. “The country is trying to change how it is perceived in the world, so maybe it is time to stop talking about these political questions. In the end, the decision to come to Israel was easy.”
Israeli officials are also keen to put the emphasis on sport. They hope that the divisive and emotional political questions surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict won’t overshadow what many wish will be a chance for the nation to show off a different side of Israel that often does not make international headlines.
“Our message to the world is clear: Jerusalem is open to all,” said Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat. “Viewers around the globe will watch some of the world’s best cyclists ride alongside the walls of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City and our historic sites.”
The decision to bring the Giro to Israel won’t come without its detractors. The ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict has prompted calls for an international boycott and divestment effort by some quarters critical of Israel’s policies.
This week, a pro-Palestinian group started a social media campaign (#RelocateTheRace) to try to pressure race officials to change the location of the start of the 2018 edition.
Israeli officials and backers, however, are hoping to use the Giro to show off another side of Israel in what will be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the nation. The stage routes will take in the beaches, deserts, ancient sites and modern cities, and wooded hillsides that dot the Israeli landscape.
Sylvan Adams, a Canadian billionaire who recently moved to Israel, is one of the main benefactors in the nation’s booming interest in cycling. As honorary president of the Giro effort, he is also one of the co-owners of the Israel Cycling…