The Grande Partenza (“Big Start”) of the Giro d’Italia in Israel was put under threat after Israeli government officials voiced their anger over references to “West Jerusalem” at the official route presentation on Wednesday
For the first time in history, a Grand Tour will start outside of Europe, with the 2018 Giro d’Italia beginning with a 9.6km individual time trial in the western part of the historic city.
When it was announced in September that the first three stages of the race would start in Israel, official literature and maps from Giro organisers RCS Sport referred to the opening stage as taking place in “Jerusalem”, but at the route presentation on Wednesday that had changed to “West Jerusalem”, angering Israeli officials.
However RCS Sport subsequently issued a statement, saying that its choice of phrase had been a reflection of the geography of the city rather than the political situation, and that it would revert back to referring to the opening stage as taking place in “Jerusalem” rather than “West Jerusalem”.
“In the event that the publication on the site defining the starting point of the competition as ‘West Jerusalem’ is not changed, the government of Israel will not be involved in the event,” read a joint statement from sports minister Miri Regev and tourism minister Yariv Levin, as reported by Reuters.
“In Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, there is no East and West. There is only one united Jerusalem. The publication violates the agreement made with the Israeli government.”
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Jerusalem was previously divided between Israel and Jordan – with Israel controlling the west of the city and Jordan the east – until the 1967 Six-Day War, where Israel captured and subsequently annexed East Jerusalem. The Israeli government then declared the city as its national capital in 1980.
However the annexation of East Jerusalem has never been recognised by the United Nations and much of the international community, with a UN General Assembly resolution in 2000 declaring the “the decision of Israel to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration on the Holy City of Jerusalem is illegal and therefore null and void.” The UN also does not regard Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The decision to hold the start of the Giro d’Italia in Israel has already been subject to considerable controversy, with human rights groups calling on RCS Sport to cancel the start, and voicing concerns over the use of images of the Holy City (regarded by the UN as part of East Jerusalem and which the race does not visit) in publicity material.
Israel is thought to have paid around €10m to RCS Sport for the privilege of hosting the opening three stages of the 2018 race, which is due to start on May 4.
Update: RCS Sport responded by replacing “West Jerusalem” with “Jerusalem” in official literature, saying that the choice of phrase was due to geography rather than politics.
“RCS Sport would like to clarify that the start of the Giro d’Italia 2018 will take place from the city of Jerusalem,” the statement read.
“During the Presentation of the 2018 race course, technical material containing the wording ‘West Jerusalem’ was used, due to the fact that the race will take place logistically in that area of the city.
“That particular wording, devoid of any political value, has been removed from any material related to the Giro d’Italia.”