Words by Peter Cossins | Photo by Swpix.com
The most recent RadioCycling podcasts have featured interviews with influential members of the cycling communities on each side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Despite some criticism, we believe this story needed to be told
The most recent podcast from the RadioCycling team featured an interview with Israel-PremierTech boss Sylvan Adams. In normal times, this would always be a fascinating listen, as Adams never ducks a question and can usually be guaranteed to come with an honest and no-holds-barred response. He’s like cat nip for cycling journalists.
These aren’t normal times, though, and especially not if you’re the head of a team that carries the name of Israel, which is currently engaged in a war in Palestinian territories following the horrific attacks carried out by the terrorist group Hamas on 7 October. Before going into what Adams said during his 25-minute interview, I want to give a bit of context to why we asked if he would speak on the podcast…
In the days after Hamas’s terrorist attacks, staff at the Israel-PremierTech team provided details, photos and interviews with Israeli cyclists who had been caught up in that horror. A number of cyclists out for a training ride on Jewish holiday had been killed. Many more had sustained serious injury, including 15-year-old Itai Cohen, who lost an eye when he was shot.
IPT’s staff and riders have been fulsome in their support of these Israeli cyclists. In recent days, the team organised a special event for the youngsters caught up in the bloody murderous mayhem, including Itai Cohen. This took place at the Tel Aviv Velodrome, the construction of which was financed by Adams.
But what of Palestinian cyclists? We were keen to know what their situation is. We were aware that the Palestinian Cycling Federation had been recognised by the UCI in 2020, but what’s the reality for riders in Gaza and the West Bank?
Through a colleague, I made contact with Sohaib Zahda, a rider and coach who has responsibility within the Palestinian federation for the sport’s establishment and development. You can listen to my conversation with him here. What stood out most from what Zahda said was how restricted Palestinians when going out to ride – by checkpoints, borders, the threat of attack – and the fact that they’re not allowed to import new bikes – even those sent by the UCI! – and have to depend on purchasing used gear from Israeli sources. He explained how these and other factors kept the competitive level very low within the Palestinian territories.
A week later, we invited Sylvan Adams to appear on the podcast. Above all, we wanted to get his perspective on how the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories could impact on the IPT team from the security perspective. In the weeks following Hamas’s initial acts of terrorism, there have been innumerable attacks across the globe on Jewish and Israeli buildings, graves and cemeteries and even on shipping. Are Adams and his team planning to boost security for riders and staff heading into the new season?
The interview began with Adams giving his perspective on the situation in Israel. His words were both partial and distressing. Some listeners suggested that we should have challenged him more, while others contacted us to say that his comments should have been edited because they were overly graphic.
On the first point, the RadioCycling team disagree. We did challenge Adams on his perspective and on the situation in Gaza. We wanted, though, to avoid the conversation degenerating into an argument. We’d offered the IPT boss the opportunity to give his assessment and he responded in hard-hitting and uncompromising fashion. We challenged him on several occasions, and his response over and again was that it is impossible to be impartial, that the atrocities carried out by Hamas meant that support for Israel should be unanimous, no matter what the situation was in Gaza, where he painted a picture that was starkly different to most international media reporting.
With regard to editing his comments to make them less distressing, the four of us involved in the production of the RadioCycling podcast had an extended debate about this. Ultimately, we decided not to edit his words at all, as this could have led to an accusation of us twisting or diluting his comments. We’re still not wholly convinced that we got this call right, although the warning at the start of the podcast and all associated social media posts did prepare listeners for disturbing aspects of the content.
Listening back to the interview, what stands out most for me is Sylvan Adams’ insistence that even contemplating boosting security was akin to giving in to the terrorists. He was absolutely adamant that the IPT team would not flinch, that doing so would be a sign of weakness, of giving in to the terror.
Yet this flies in the face of the response within the sport to previous atrocities. Security was heightened considerably in the wake of the attacks on the London underground in July 2005 and on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Bastille Day 2016, the latter taking place in the midst of the Tour de France. Trucks and concrete barricades were brought in to prevent vehicle access to stage starts and finishes and the race route. Well-armed military personnel were immediately very evident, including snipers perched on roof-tops.
Although we don’t yet know if and how the ongoing war in Israel and Palestine will impact on cycle sport, race organisers, the police, and regional and national government bodies are sure to be considering any further measures that could be taken at high-profile events next year, and above all the Tour and the Paris Olympics. Sylvan Adams might want to brazen out any potential threats against his team, but history suggests levels of security will be boosted.
The fact that this will happen underlines another aspect that we wanted to highlight in speaking to Israel-PremierTech’s boss – the promotion of national states through sponsorship of sports events and teams. As this trend grows, the amount of cash in sport has risen dramatically. At the same time, though, the affirmation that sports and politics shouldn’t be mixed has been completely undermined. As well as promoting the investment and holiday possibilities offered by the countries involved, branding of this kind invites interrogation of their political, military and environmental actions. This makes their sporting marques a focus for resulting criticism and resenting this fact won’t stop it happening.