Israel’s national cycling team will for the first time compete in the 2020 UAE Tour, which begins on Sunday.
The squad named “Israel Start Up Nation” will join others around the world at the Middle East’s largest cycling event where competitors will ride 148 kilometers through all seven United Arab Emirates, from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.
“Competing in the UAE in the team uniform is an inspiring moment,” said Israeli cyclist Omer Goldstein in a statement. “Until recently, it would have seemed like an unrealistic dream.”
Goldstein added that he was pleasantly surprised by the warm reception his team was receiving in the UAE, saying that locals had asked the team decked in Blue and White to take selfies with them.
The effort to bring the Israeli team to the UAE was spearheaded by billionaire Sylvan Adams, who joined the team as co-owner in 2017 and was influential in bringing the Grand Tour Giro d’Italia race to the Jewish state last year.
“The participation in this race by our Israeli team in a Middle Eastern nation is emblematic of how cycling can be a force for diplomatic openness and progress,” Adams said in a statement. “It is not an exaggeration to suggest that sport can be a force for peace.”
Israeli athletes have competed in the UAE in recent years. In 2018 and 2019 the nation’s national anthem “Hatikva” was played on several occasions after gold medal wins in judo and ju-jitsu.
Those occasions have been seen as signs of Israel’s gradual rapprochement with the nation, where displaying Israeli symbols was banned up until 2018.