Israel and the Tour Down Under

Jan 4, 2024
Silhouette of soldiers in Israel vs Palestine.

The Israel-Premier Tech (PRT) team is clearly a vehicle for advancing Israel’s image, and, indeed, advancing favourable propaganda.

Many readers will know that South Australia hosts the Santos Tour Down Under (Tour Down Under) in January each year. It is traditionally the opening event of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) World Tour. That is the premier men’s elite road cycling tour. The Tour Down Under was established in South Australia in 1999 and has been held annually thereafter, save for the Covid induced cancellations in 2021 and 2022. In 2024 the Tour Down Under is due to take place from 12-21 January.

The Tour Down Under has been a most successful event for South Australia. It became the first non-European event to achieve UCI Pro Tour status. It generally features stages through Adelaide and surrounding countryside including the Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and the Fleurieu Peninsula.

But in 2024 there is a problem. One of the teams is Israel–Premier Tech (PRT). Israel-Premier Tech was founded in 2014 and is based in Israel. The team debuted in the Tour Down Under in 2020. The problem is that Israel maintains an involvement in UCI’s World Tour whilst at the same time destroying Gaza through a bombing campaign that to date has resulted in the deaths of well over 20,000 people, including over 8,000 children.

Many believe that Israel’s involvement in the Tour Down Under should not happen.

How could such a premier sporting event be so tarnished? But quite apart from the current ‘war’ – if that is the right word – there is also the problem of apartheid. Israel has been accused of being an apartheid state by all and sundry, but perhaps most importantly, by Israel’s own human rights organization, B’tselem, plus the New York based Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. No answer to the details and findings of these reports has been forthcoming from the Israeli government, nor from our current Australian government, which has been challenged to do so – and often. (see Related Articles)

Australians were prepared to boycott a South African rugby team (the Springboks) during that country’s apartheid era – an era that ultimately came to an end because of grass roots boycotts against its participation in the World economy and cultural and sporting events. Should we Australians not do the same again, given that the Tour Down Under includes an Israeli team.

The writer is privy to the defence advanced by the South Australian Tourism Commission. It points out that the Commission has a World Tour licence from the UCI. As such, the Commission has contractual obligations to the UCI. It is obliged to recognize the right of World Tour teams to participate in UCI events, of which the Tour Down Under is one. The Commission points to the fact, supposedly mitigating, that in this coming event the Israel-Premier Tech team has no Israeli cyclists. The seven team members are all from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK. However, any reading of the ‘Israelpremiertech’ website makes it absolutely clear that the team “flies the flag for Israel”. Those words appear on a story about a team rider in the 2023 Tour de France.

Further, the website’s ‘General News’ section contains numerous stories about October 7, and hostages both released and still held. The team is clearly a vehicle for promoting Israel’s image, and, indeed, advancing favourable propaganda. Of this there can be no doubt.

I would add a word concerning the Tourism Commission’s contractual obligations to the UCI. There is probably no express term covering the issue, however I believe that there would be an implied term that any right of a country’s team to participate does not extend to a team representing a country guilty of the crime of apartheid, or guilty of other crimes against humanity, such as genocide. So perhaps the Tourism Commission should raise that issue with the UCI – now, before 12 January.

AFOPA, (Australian Friends of Palestine Association), has engaged with the Tourism Commission and has advised that should the Tour allow an Israeli team, it will have no choice but to call upon its members and supporters to boycott the event. In the words of AFOPA’s Chairperson: “We will use every means at our disposal to bring attention to the Tour Down Under’s lack of moral courage and human decency while thousands of Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed”.

As a member of AFOPA, the writer is aware of the exchange that has occurred. He is also aware that AFOPA’s Executive met on 2 January to decide on what action it will take and has decided that at a pro-Palestinian rally to occur in Adelaide on 7 January to inform those in attendance of AFOPA’s opposition to the inclusion of the Israeli team in the Tour and that they are encouraged to boycott the event in their own way either by not attending or attending with flags and placards, making their position clear.

That is AFOPA’s position. At the end of the day, people must make up their own mind. Some will not wish to see a premier South Australian event prejudiced in any way. They will not participate in any boycott.

Others will no doubt take the view that primary responsibility rests with the UCI World Tour and that the UCI must make a decision as to where it stands in relation to enabling a country (Israel) to be represented in its events when that country is at that very moment – and likely during the event – perpetrating human rights abuses the extent of which the world has not witnessed since the Second World War.

Having arrived at that view it would appear that the only way to encourage the UCI to arrive at a proper decision is to bring adverse publicity to its World Tour events by such publicity as would follow from a boycott of the nature described.

Watch this space.

 

Related articles:

Australia must clarify Israel’s status as an Apartheid state

 

Australia’s DFAT blocks FOI request on Israel apartheid status

FOI exposes Australia’s attempts to protect Israel on apartheid status

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