The unrest in Israel sparked by US president Donald Trump’s formal recognition last week of Jerusalem as the middle eastern state’s capital could result in the Giro d’Italia abandoning its planned visit to the country next year, with the race beginning instead in Italy.
Trump’s decision has been condemned by political and religious leaders around the world, with the US being the first country to accord Jerusalem the status of Israel’s capital since the state was founded in 1948.
The US president’s announcement sparked a wave of unrest in Jerusalem and beyond, with the leaders of Palestinian groups Hamas and Hezbollah calling for an intifada, or uprising, in protest at the decision. Several people have been killed by Israeli security forces during the unrest.
The opening three days of the 101st edition of the Giro d’Italia are due to be held in Jerusalem in May, starting with an individual time trial in Jerusalem, on Friday 4 May.
That will be followed by two road stages, the first from Haifa to Tel Aviv, the second from Be’er Sheva to Eilat, before the race recommences on Sicily following a rest day for the transfer, with Stage 4 departing from Catania on Tuesday 8 May.
But press reports in Italy suggest that contingency plans are in place for the race to start there instead and avoid Israel altogether.
One option being reported is for Catania to host the start of the race, with additional stages added elsewhere in Italy to bring the race up to three weeks. However, given that the dates of the 18 Italian stages have already been set, that could prove to be an administrative and logistical headache.
An alternative is for the first three days of the race to be held either in Puglia, on Italy’s southern Adriatic coast, or on the island of Sardinia, which hosted last year’s Big Start, and for the race to then head to Catania as currently scheduled.
Giro d’Italia organisers RCS Sport have been urged by human rights organisations to move the start of next year’s race, which is scheduled to spend the opening three days in Israel, away from the country.
After the presentation in Milan last month of the full route of the 2018 edition of the race, they also faced calls within Israel for the Big Start to be scrapped because the opening time trial was described as starting in “West Jerusalem” rather than “Jerusalem.”
East Jerusalem, occupied since 1967 by Israel, is viewed by Palestinians and the wider Arab world is the future capital of a Palestinian state.
Israel’s occupation of the eastern part of the city has never been recognised by the international community, and most countries that have diplomatic ties with Israel maintain their embassies in Tel Aviv – although Trump has said that the US plans to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
RCS Sport is determined to keep the Big Start in Israel, with race director Mauro Vegni saying that any decision to move it would only be taken as a “last resort.”
However, with less than five months until the race is due to start, the clock is ticking, and the longer the current unrest continues, the greater the pressure will be on the organisers to review their plans – not least on security grounds, with the Giro d’Italia set to be the biggest sporting event Israel has ever hosted, and therefore a high-profile potential terrorist target.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.