Human rights groups call on Giro d'Italia to move 2018 start from Israel

European group spearheads move to pressure RCS Sport

A Europe-based human rights group on Wednesday issued a public letter asking Giro d'Italia owners RCS Sport to reconsider the planned 2018 'Big Start' in Israel, and if they don't, the letter asks teams and sponsors to boycott the race.

Citing "grave and escalating violations of international law and Palestinians’ human rights", the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) published an open letter to RCS Sport that included more than 120 signatories urging the Giro owners to move the race start as the the official route announcement approaches on November 29.

Among the international coalition of human rights organizations, trade unions, ethical tourism associations, sports and faith-based groups that signed the letter were renowned American linguist and author Noam Chomsky, former United Nations advocates for Palestinian rights John Dugard and Richard Falk, Italian playwright Moni Ovadia, European Parliament members Eleonora Forenza and Sergio Cofferati, and former vice president of the European Parliament Luisa Morgantini.

"Holding the 'Big Start' of the 2018 race in Israel will not only cover up Israel’s military occupation and racist policies against Palestinians, it will also exacerbate Israel’s sense of impunity and encourage it to continue denying the Palestinian people their UN-stipulated rights," the ECCP wrote in its letter.

RCS Sport announced on September 18 that the 2018 race would start with an individual time trial in Jerusalem, then spend two more days in Israel with stages in Tel Aviv and in Eliat in the southern tip of the country. The Jerusalem and Eliat stages were especially problematic for the ECCP.

The letter specifically called out RCS Sport for promotional materials on its website, saying the "Giro d’Italia deceptively portrays occupied East Jerusalem as part of Israel and as its unified capital. No country in the world recognises any part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital."

The stage planned for southern Israel "will pass by dozens of Palestinian Bedouin villages Israel refuses to recognise," according to the letter, which also alleges the race is working "with at least one company active in illegal Israeli settlements".

"We therefore call on RCS MediaGroup, organizers of the Giro d’Italia, to move the start of the race to another country to ensure no involvement in Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian human rights," the ECCP and signatories say in the letter. "We remind RCS MediaGroup, race sponsors and participating teams of the legal consequences and reputational damage stemming from collaborating with Israeli institutions and companies involved in violations of human rights and international law."

Contacted by Cyclingnews, a spokesperson for RCS Sport said: "The first reason why the Giro d’Italia is starting in Israel is to continue the process of internationalisation of the race, remembering that this is the 14th time the race will start abroad. Israel represents a good opportunity because it will be the first time a Grand Tour will start outside the borders of Europe. Linked to that, the second reason is that the Giro d’Italia is a vehicle to export everything that is Italian to the world, and of course being in Israel gives us great international exposure to talk about Italy."

The ECCP letter called on sponsors and teams to act on their own if RCS Sport refuses to move the race.

"We call on cycling teams planning to participate in next year’s race to join us in urging RCS MediaGroup to move the race to another country, and, in the event RCS fails to do so, to consider withdrawing from the race to avoid abetting violations of human rights and international law. 

"Finally, we strongly urge the governments of participating teams to take a public position against Israeli claims of sovereignty over Jerusalem, including East Jerusalem, as its capital and encourage teams, institutions and companies to refrain from providing recognition or assistance to Israeli violations of international law."

A spokesperson for the Bahrain-Merida team told Cyclingnews: "Our plan is to start the Giro and we don’t want to mix politics and sport. Our team is ready whatever RCS will decide. We are invited by RCS and will attend Giro 2018."

Cyclingnews has contacted the union of professional cycling teams but is yet to receive a response.  

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