Demonstrators at Gent-Wevelgem cycling race: Stop normalization, boycott Israel!

On Sunday, 26 March, the Gent-Wevelgem cycling race took place in Belgium. This cycling race is a semi-classic of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI Worldtour).

Members of the Plate-Forme Charleroi-Palestine and the Käthe Kollwitz Collective, as well as Palestinian and Irish friends, were present to denounce the participation in the race of the Israel Premier Tech propaganda team. (*)

The Plate-Forme and fellow demonstrators declared: We cannot allow Israeli propaganda to have carte blanche in popular sporting events in our communities! They gathered in the villages and countryside surrounding Ypres, in Mesen and later in Voormzele. (The Plate-Forme Charleroi-Palestine is an affiliate organization of the Samidoun Network.)

As a finale, demonstrators unfurled their flags and banners at the women’s race in Voormzele where the Israeli propaganda team was also present. A Cuban cyclist participated in this race, and the presence of the Cuban flag was there to show support.

Israel Premier Tech is the representative of Israel in professional cycling and should be treated as such.

The Israel Premier Tech cycling team was formed in 2014, when Israeli businessman Ron Baron and former professional cyclist Ran Margaliot started the Israel Cycling Academy.

Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-born billionaire and amateur cyclist, soon became co-owner of the team, which Canadian industrial manufacturing company Premier Tech joined as title sponsor in early 2022.

The team and its training projects aim to recruit renowned riders and gain access to the most prestigious cycling events. Israel Premier Tech’s results in the Tour de France in 2022 show that these efforts are starting to bear fruit and that the team may remain visible in the upper echelons of professional cycling in the years to come. However, the team showed poor results later in 2022 in Montreal, where Adams and his team were met with protest.

Despite its name, Israel Premier Tech does not represent the Israeli state in an official capacity. Sylvan Adams insists that this team is “not a state project,” stressing that sport and politics “should never mix”. Nevertheless, the businessman also presents himself as the “self-proclaimed ambassador of the State of Israel” and takes an aggressive approach to fighting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, viewing sports as a mechanism to combat the boycott.

Along with Israel Premier Tech, Sylvan Adams was the main driving force behind organizing the launch of the 2018 Giro d’Italia in Israel, an event he described as “the antidote to BDS.”

And his work to normalize Israel through sport extends beyond the world of cycling: having helped bring Lionel Messi and the Argentina national football team to Israel in 2019 for a game against Uruguay, as well as the organization of the last two editions of the Champions Trophy in Tel Aviv, a match between the reigning Ligue 1 champion and the winner of the Coupe de France. He also is involved in organizing the Middle East Ironman championship, scheduled for the end of the year in occupied Tiberias. 

Members of the Israel Premier Tech team have attempted to distance themselves from the actions of the Israeli government, saying they just want to “ride their bikes.”

The fact that most of the riders on the team are not of Israeli nationality helps them in this respect. Of the 31 riders entered in the World Tour, only four are Israeli and only one appeared in the list of eight cyclists entered by the team in the Tour de France 2022.

Nonetheless, the modus operandi of this cycling project fundamentally involves promoting Israeli soft power goals. According to Sylvan Adams, riders understand that they are “ambassadors of their team’s home country.” Some traveled to Israel to participate in photo ops and reach millions, and even rode in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.

Moreover, despite the image it intends to project, Israel-Premier Tech often seems to be treated as an official Israeli organization.

At the start of the latest Tour de France, the squad benefited from the security arrangements  provided for Israeli delegations, while the Israeli media presented any sporting success as a “first for the Jewish state”. The team’s activities were also congratulated by the Israeli Minister of Tourism. 

Israel-Premier Tech is thus part of the normalization train as an unofficial ambassador of the Israeli regime. (based on the article “Cycling, new terrain for Israel’s normalization efforts?” , published on this site on September 12, 2022.


(*) The action was also supported by Palestina Solidariteit, Vrede vzw, WSM, Intal, Ilps Belgium, ICS vzw and Peace Village Mesen

Source: Plate-Forme Charleroi-Palestine