July 24, 2022 10:00 am
The co-owner of the Israel-Premier Tech team spent most of the Tour de France in shorts and jerseys in the middle of the rider. A Canadian-born businessman who made his fortune in real estate is out of the box. This 63-year-old Zionist philanthropist, a cycling champion in his age category, dreams of attracting the Grande Boukle to his adopted country, Israel, when he succeeded in the Giro in 2018. Before that, it was time to play soccer in the second edition of the Champions Trophy in Tel Aviv. This will bring PSG against Nantes next Sunday.
Simon Clarke and Hugoul have signed a victory in the first stages of your history. Is it worth the celebration?
Champagne-Runner drank only half a glass. They brought immeasurable fame to Israel. Part of my rider’s mission is to be an ambassador to our country. My favorite thing is to ride with everyone. We spent several days together from the start to the second day of the break. Each time we have traveled miles together.
Did being a top cyclist help you hire a celebrity like Chris Froome?
I think. I protect myself when riding with them. I’m an investor, but I’m also a talented cyclist. I have Canadian and Pan Am championship titles and have won two gold medals in the World Track Championship … I don’t really like training, but in Canada at least a week since I was 41 We have two races. To be a good cyclist, you have to ride a lot. I still run 8,000 kilometers a year.
Providing a more realistic image of Israel through sports
How does your approach differ from the “sportswashing” practiced by authoritarian nations?
I am a self-proclaimed ambassador to Israel. I have a business card with this title. For me, this country is little known and sometimes terrible. Media portraits want to present us as a war zone. I received a delegation of the Canadian Parliament at my house. We went to the beach and visited exciting, free and diverse countries. The most important is safety. I haven’t read anything at all. We provide a more realistic image through sports, the Tour de France and the Champions Trophy. We want to attract the determined visitors. The 2018 Giro Grand Department Store has produced very good results. It’s a diplomatic job.
Do you disagree with Israel’s oppression of Palestinians?
I reject this idea. 20% of our population is Arab, all have citizenship, some are doctors, soldiers, parliamentarians … I want to show a fairer portrait of my country. Sports fans have no prejudice. Along the French road, all I heard was: “Israel, go, go! »» From my experience, we know that we have more friends than our opponents. Simply, they are very noisy. We are ready to live in peace with our neighbors.
Are there any Israeli Arabs on the team?
Last year there was a Druze runner in the U23 category. There are schools that teach young people in the Arab community about cycling. Nothing is more proud of me than having an Arab-Israeli or Palestinian runner.
On July 31, PSG will face Nantes in Tel Aviv for the Champions Trophy. Is it pursuing the same idea of promoting Israel?
absolutely. Lionel Messi alone has 230 million social media followers. It is a large audience to conquer. As many potential visitors, we expect 400 million viewers.
Israel can host FIFA World Cup with neighbors
Will you go further?
yes. In 2026, the World Cup will be shared among Canada, the United States and Mexico. This model allows Israel to organize it with its neighbors.With Gianni Infantino [le président de la Fifa ], We have already met several times. Maybe we will discuss it in Qatar. Thanks to my sporting activities, I was invited to the World Cup. Understanding between our countries is better than you think.
Also, are you in favor of consolidating Israel, which is currently playing in the European playoffs, into the Middle East zone?
You have to consider it. In Europe, there is no chance of qualifying. Our area is open to us. Thanks to the Abraham Agreement signed in 2020, we have relations with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to Egypt and Jordan. We speak almost frankly with Saudi Arabia. Their Ministry of Sports has informed me that my team will be welcomed on the 2023 Saudi Arabia tour. On the Emirates tour, young people lined up to receive bottles of souvenirs bearing the Israeli name.
I use sports for diplomatic purposes, which is different from politics
Especially in Iran, there are still obstacles.
Iran’s population does not oppose Israel. Without their fanatical government, we would have had a relationship, as in the Shah era. If the Iranians refuse to confront one of us at the Olympics, I will kick out the entire delegation. Sports should not be politicized. I’m often asked if I’m in politics, but the answer is no. I use sports for diplomatic purposes, but that’s not the case. In the 1970s, the United States exchanged table tennis players for China and broke the ice. This is a very powerful tool. I am proud of my small contribution to the process of peace and friendship.
Is the ultimate goal to bring the Tour de France to Israel?
I am familiar with the event management and its owner, the Amaury family. The request has been made. I haven’t succeeded so far, but I’m doing my best. I want to go to Israel.