Israel – Premier Tech brace for protest at first race since outbreak of war

Thousands of demonstrators are expected to turn out for Saturday's Down Under Classic criterium.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 11.01.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
More from Jonny +

The beginning of the 2024 road season in Australia sees Israel – Premier Tech resume competition for the first time since the outbreak of war in Gaza, and will also be the first time in the team’s existence where they will likely be met with thousands of protestors.

A rally held earlier this week in Adelaide reportedly had hundreds if not thousands of people in attendance and the expectation is this weekend’s ‘Global Day of Action for Palestine,’ which coincides with Tour Down Under festivities in the city, could see even larger protests.

This Saturday, the Australia Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA) will carry their initial protest on the Parliament House steps to the Down Under Classic criterium circuit on Wakefield Street, where they plan to line the 1.35 km circuit with banners and “raise the Palestinian flag at the Tour Down Under village”.

“The Israel Premier-Tech Cycling Team is not Welcome in South Australia’s Tour Down Under,” AFOPA said on their website. “To add insult to injury, the Israeli flag is now flying in Adelaide over the Tour Down Under village at Tarntanyangga/Victoria Square. This is because the Israeli-based cycling team, Israel-Premier Tech, has been allowed to participate in one of Australia’s major sporting events, the Tour Down Under 2024.”

For the first time, a staff mostly made up of non-Israeli and non-Jewish people will have to reckon with what being the biggest regular representative for Israel on the global sporting stage entails when tensions in the region are high.

Already over the winter riders were supplied with blank kits as they feared lone wolf attacks during solo off-season kilometres. Team owner Sylvan Adams, a naturalised Israeli-Canadian billionaire and self-appointed ambassador for his adoptive nation-state, is still understandably bullish in his mission to bring Israel to the peloton. Now, at the resumption of racing, riders will be stepping out with both ‘Israel’ and their Star of David-style logo on their chests to meet what is looking likely to be thousands of protestors.

Protests are nothing new to the Israeli team, who are often met with a handful of Palestinian flags outside their bus at big races like the Tour de France, but with the war bringing the issue into the international spotlight, this will be uncharted territory for the organisation and its on-the-ground staff.

Similarly, security measures will be stepped up. Pre-war, these already included having team vehicles checked for explosives as well as being accompanied by police escorts, while the 2022 Tour de France Grand Départ saw 24/7 police protection given as required by Danish law following the 2015 terrorist attack on Copenhagen’s Great Synagogue. Naturally, details on what exactly this will entail are not freely given, due to the self-defeating nature of enhancing security only to provide the blueprints of increased safety measures.

“As always, we’re excited to be in Adelaide to start our season at the Tour Down Under,” a spokesperson for the team told Escape Collective. “The team has been working with the race organizers to ensure the safety of our team members and the entire race.”

The team are understandably tight-lipped, not wanting to put greater focus on the protests planned against them. On-the-ground staff and riders are also understandably apprehensive about the weeks and months ahead, yet no directive has come from the team for riders to avoid speaking on the war. Although, the press will have to wait and see how willing riders are to engage with the issue when it’s asked of them.

Emotions will be running high in Adelaide. After Australia, the team’s next races are in France at the Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes-Maritimes in February. By that stage, it’s anyone’s guess what the war will look like, and what the resulting level of animosity and protest directed against the team will be.