The sole Muslim rider on the Israel Cycling Academy team has quit the squad following US president Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Ahmet Orken, the Turkish rider who was due to join the team for the 2018 season, has announced that he will now not be joining up with the team because of “the effect that the recent events in the Middle East had on me and my family”.
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Earlier this month, Trump announced that the United States would officially recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, sparking protests across the Middle East and drawing criticism from the United Nations.
Orken’s recruitment to the Israel Cycling Academy team was partly intended for the team to show that it was above politics, with the 24-year-old likely to be named in the Professional Continental team’s squad for the 2018 Giro d’Italia, which is due to start in Jerusalem in May.
However even if the team gets a place in the Italian Grand Tour, Orken will not be joining them on the start line after asking the team management to dissolve his contract for the 2018 season.
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“I am so thankful for the opportunity I received from Israel Cycling Academy,” Orken said in a statement released by the team. Unfortunately, recent events have forced my hand.
“My family in Konya [Turkey] – and especially my mother and brother – have found themselves in a dire situation. While I am thankful to be a professional cyclist, I am a dedicated son and brother first and foremost.”
Ran Margaliot, the team’s general manager, travelled to Turkey to meet Orken in an unsuccessful attempt to convince him to stay, and said that although he was disappointed with the rider’s decision, the door would remain open if he changed his mind.
“This is heartbreaking for all of us,” said Margaliot. “Ahmet is a great athlete and a great person. He joined our program with a vision and commitment to putting sport – and with it, peace – above politics.
“While we are disappointed by his decision, we only want what is best for him and his family. The doors of Israel Cycling Academy will be open for Ahmet and we certainly hope to see him rejoin us.”