Activists in Australia rush bike race to protest Israeli team cyclist

Police remove pro-Palestinian demonstrators from course after they target local athlete Simon Clarke for competing for Israel – Premier Tech squad in National Championships

People gather during an anti-Israel rally in Sydney, Saturday, October 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
People gather during an anti-Israel rally in Sydney, Saturday, October 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrators rushed the starting line at a cycling race in Australia earlier this week to protest against an athlete competing for the Israel – Premier Tech team, in the latest instance of anti-Israel protests targeting the sports world.

The protests targeted Simon Clarke, an Australian representing the team in the National Championships Australia race in Buninyong, outside Melbourne on Sunday.

Around a dozen protesters rushed the course as some 120 cyclists gathered at the starting line for the beginning of the race, a video posted to Instagram showed.

Demonstrators carried a banner reading “Israel – Premier Tech not welcome” and chanted anti-Israel chants such as “Simon Clarke serves an apartheid regime” and “Free Palestine.”

They were removed from the racing course by police officers, and continued their protest on the side of the road, the Australian Associated Press reported.

The team, initially called Israel Start-Up Nation, is a private initiative meant to boost Israel’s image worldwide and promote cycling in the Jewish state. Most of its riders are not Israeli, including Clarke, who joined the team in 2022 and earned plaudits by winning a Tour de France stage that year.

Israel – Premier Tech told Channel 12 that the protests would not dissuade it from continuing to bear the country’s name.

Stage winner Australia’s Simon Clarke reacts after crossing the finish line of the fifth stage of the Tour de France in Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, France, Wednesday, July 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

“We are the only professional sports team in the world that includes Israel as part of its name, and we will continue to do so and proudly represent the country,” it said.

Clarke, who finished seventh, was alone in representing the team in Sunday’s race but is expected to be joined by teammates Nick Schultz, Derek Gee, Guillaume Boivin, Stevie Williams, Corbin Strong, and George Bennett next week for the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia.

The team told Channel 12 it was “taking steps to minimize the risks to our cyclists and our staff” due to the “atmosphere worldwide since the beginning of the [Hamas-Israel] war.”

Members of Israel Start-Up Nation, the country’s professional cycling team (Noa Arnon via JTA)

Since the beginning of Israel’s war with Hamas, antisemitism and anti-Israel activity have spiked worldwide, including in the sports world.

Last week, a New York high school basketball game was aborted after players on the home team hurled antisemitic slurs at their opponents from a Jewish private school. The coach of the home team was fired and one of its players was dismissed from the team Monday.

In light of the rise in antisemitism, Israel’s Olympic Committee president Yael Arad told Reuters at the end of November that there would be new security challenges for Israeli athletes at the Paris Olympics that are set to take place this summer.

“Sadly, some of our athletes had faced obstacles with even participating in the competitions necessary for the Olympic criteria,” she said.

The Games’ organizers told Reuters in response that security preparations were unprecedented this year to ensure security in all game areas including the athletes’ village.

During the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Palestinian Black September terrorist group took a group of Israeli athletes hostage in the athletes’ village, later killing 11 of them and a German police officer in a failed hostage rescue mission.

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