Israeli officials threatened Wednesday to drop their partnership in the first stage of the Giro d’Italia after organizers of the prestigious cycling event referred to the start of the race as in “west Jerusalem.”
The first day of the 101st edition of the Italian race, set for May 4, 2018, will take place in the western sector of Jerusalem, the first time the race starts outside of Europe, in a major coup for Israel.
In the Giro’s Wednesday announcement of the routes, organizers noted the race would begin with a time-trial in “west Jerusalem.”
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.
Sports Minister Miri Regev and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said they threatened to back away from their partnership in the race, if the wording did not change.
“In Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, there is no east or west. There is one unified Jerusalem,” a joint statement read, calling the use of the term “a breach of the agreements with the Israeli government.”
“If the wording does not change, the Israeli government will not be a partner in the event,” they said in a statement.
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.
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.