Vegni plays down 'misunderstanding' over Giro d'Italia Jerusalem stage name

Giro d'Italia director Mauro Vegni has stated that the dispute between RCS Sport and the Israeli government over references to West Jerusalem on the Grand Tour's official maps and route information was a misunderstanding.

"Nothing major really happened with Israel, there was a lot of smoke and no real fire," Vegni said in a video interview posted on the GazzettaTV.

But on Wednesday, Israeli ministers threatened to withdraw support for the 2018 Giro d'Italia's Grande Partenza, where the first three days are set to take place in Israel, after maps released during the full route presentation in Milan listed the stage 1 time trial location as West Jerusalem.

Israel seized East Jerusalem from Jordan following the Six-Day War in 1967 and later annexed the area. Although the move was considered illegal by the United Nations and not recognized by the international community, Israel sees Jerusalem, east and west, as its undivided capital.

Israel's sports minister Miri Regev and tourism minister Yariy Levin sent a statement to AFP claiming that RCS Sport's use of the term West Jerusalem was "a breach of the agreements with the Israeli government" and reiterated that Jerusalem was "Israel's capital [where] there is no east or west."

Regev and Levin added that "If the wording does not change, the Israeli government will not be a partner in the event."

In September, RCS Sport announced the first three stages of next year's Giro d'Italia would take place in Israel and, at that time, listed the stage 1 location as Jerusalem. However, the location was changed to West Jerusalem on all route information for the official presentation on Wednesday.

Vegni responded by saying that listing the location as West Jerusalem was not meant as a political reference but rather a directional one, to indicate the side of the city that the event was located.

Less than one day following the complaint from the Israeli ministers, RCS Sport removed all references of West Jerusalem from its website and changed the stage 1 start location back to Jerusalem.

"For sure we made a mistake by indicating 'West Jerusalem' on the map," Vegni said. “It wasn't any kind of political attempt to identity or divide a city into east or west. It was a technical name. We presented the Grande Partenza in Jerusalem in September as Jerusalem.

"Between then and the presentation of the full race, a lot of journalists asked us where and how we would do the time trial. During the presentation we indicated it was a time trial, about 10km long and on a technical course with climbs, descents and corners. So we put 'West' as a technical indication and not as a political name.

"We've always said that this is a great opportunity to take a huge sporting event (to Israel) and that we don't want to have anything to do with the political issues."

But the decision to start the Giro d’Italia in Israel has already led to a series of political opinion and criticism from human rights groups including the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP).

The group issued an open letter to RCS Sport asking it to reconsider starting the 2018 event in Israel. It also asked teams and sponsors to boycott the event citing "grave and escalating violations of international law and Palestinians’ human rights."

In addition, the group criticized RCS Sport original promotional material in September stating that 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."

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