Olympian triathlete Shachar Sagiv is set to be the first Israeli to compete in Saudi Arabia, as the countries see progressively thawing relations.
Sagiv is slated to participate on Saturday in the fifth round of the Super League Triathlon, a team-based cycling, swimming and running competition. He ranked the fastest cyclist in the most recent competition in Toulouse and was the eighth-best competitor overall.
Saudi Arabia, which does not generally allow Israelis to enter, has in the past few months begun to issue special visas to Israeli citizens, primarily businesspeople, Israeli news outlet Globes reported in May.
“I am very excited to be a trailblazer by being the first Israeli athlete to compete in Saudi Arabia,” Sagiv told the website Sport1. “This is proof that sports connect peoples and countries.”
“I hope to have a good competition, move up in the general ranking at the end of the race and retain first place in the cycling competition,” he added.
The annual Super League Triathlon offers winning participants up to $1.5 million, with smaller prizes for winners of individual races.
Sagiv and his brother Ran broke Israeli records in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by ranking 20th and 35th in the triathlon competition, respectively. They were only the second and third Israeli triathletes ever to participate in the Olympic Games.
In November, Shachar Sagiv is set to compete in the Bermuda World Triathlon Championship Series as part of his effort to qualify for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Though Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have official diplomatic relations, they have maintained covert ties in recent years, with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman reportedly seeing Israel as a strategic partner in the fight against Iranian influence in the region.
In addition, ahead of US President Joe Biden’s visit to Jeddah in July, Saudi Arabia gave permission to Israeli airlines to begin using its airspace for flights to locations beyond the Middle East, though it insisted the move was not a step toward normalization.