Italian bike race organizers apologize for ‘West Jerusalem’ wording
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Italian bike race organizers apologize for ‘West Jerusalem’ wording

After Israeli ministers protest, Organizers of Giro d'Italia say use of term 'West Jerusalem' was not intended to be political and has been removed from all materials

Israel's ambassador in Italy, Ofer Sachs, left, and the Mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi pose with the trophy of the Giro d'Italia during the presentation of the 2018 Tour of Italy (101st Giro d'Italia) cycling race, on November 29, 2017 in Milan.  (AFP/MARCO BERTORELLO)
Israel's ambassador in Italy, Ofer Sachs, left, and the Mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi pose with the trophy of the Giro d'Italia during the presentation of the 2018 Tour of Italy (101st Giro d'Italia) cycling race, on November 29, 2017 in Milan. (AFP/MARCO BERTORELLO)

Following an outcry from Israeli ministers, the organizers of the prestigious Giro d’Italia cycling event on Thursday apologized for referring to the start of the race as being in “West Jerusalem,” and said they had removed the term from all official materials.

The first day of the 101st edition of the Italian race, set for May 4, 2018, will take place in Jerusalem, the first time the race starts outside of Europe, in a major coup for Israel.

Ministers on Wednesday threatened to drop their partnership in the first stage of the Giro d’Italia if the wording was not altered.

“RCS Sport would like to clarify that the start of the Giro d’Italia 2018 will take place from the city of Jerusalem,” the organizers said in a statement on their website. “During the Presentation of the 2018 race course, technical material containing the wording “West Jerusalem” was used, due to the fact that the race will take place logistically in that area of the city. That particular wording, devoid of any political value, has been removed from any material related to the Giro d’Italia.”

Sports Minister Miri Regev and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin welcomed the change.

“Following our response to the Giro management, we are pleased to see the prompt reaction of the organizers in removing the name ‘west Jerusalem’ from their official announcements,” they said in a joint statement.

In the Giro’s Wednesday announcement of the routes, organizers had noted the race would begin with a time-trial in “west Jerusalem.”

Giro d’Italia organizers, including cycling enthusiast and unofficial Giro ambassador Sylvan Adams (left), Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, cycling legends Alberto Contador and Ivan Basso, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Culture Minister Miri Regev and Giro d’Italia general manager (Courtesy ‘Big Start)

Organizers have tried to steer clear of politics in creating the route, and said the race will not go through any land considered disputed by the international community. That means the course will circumvent the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Race director Mauro Vegni said he was aware of the political sensitivities and had drawn up the course with the “guidance” of the Italian Foreign Ministry.

“The reality is that we want it to be a sports event and stay away from any political discussion,” Vegni told The Associated Press.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. It claims the entire city as its undivided capital.

The Palestinians want the eastern sector of the city to be the capital of their future state.

Announcing the race last month, Israeli leaders and local race officials said they were thrilled to host the Giro, labeling it as the biggest and most prestigious sporting event ever held in Israel. They expect tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts.

An illustrative photo of the 2012 Giro D’Italia. (CC, BY-SA Wikimedia)

Regev had called the race a symbol of “peace and unity.” The Sports Ministry said the Giro would promote Israel’s history, heritage, “magical views” and holy sites.

The Giro is one of cycling’s prestigious Grand Tour races, along with the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta. The race in Israel will mark the first time that any of the Grand Tour events is held outside of Europe.

Giro organizers declined to say how much its Israeli partners had paid to bring the race to Israel.

AFP and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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