The reality of state affiliation have come into view for Israel-Premier Tech, as blank training kit will be issued to riders for the 2024 season and staff members have let it be known they don’t feel comfortable driving cars emblazoned with the team’s logo.
The Israel-Hamas war is the biggest conflict in the region since the inception of the team in 2015. Among the three other squads with state ties or sponsors – UAE Team Emirates, Bahrain-Victorious, and Astana-Qazaqstan – Israel-Premier Tech is the most outwardly political. This is mostly due to the squad’s owner Sylvan Adams, a Canadian-Israeli billionaire who has been clear that his project is intended to change people’s perception of Israel. It’s branding rather than funding, which Adams has argued is different to his financially state-sponsored rivals.
It was working, too. An Israeli Grande Partenza for the 2018 Giro d’Italia preceded stage wins at the two most recent Tours de France. At the 2023 race this past summer, Adams even told this reporter an anecdote of how he’d met fans at the side of the road waving a large Israeli flag, who weren’t Jewish but just fans of the team. As the issue flares up and becomes hugely polarised once again, it is difficult to remove the politics from the team, especially as the 2024 season approaches.
Staff and riders told Dutch outlet Wielerflits they now fear retaliation when wearing team kit and driving team cars, and Israel-Premier Tech have confirmed riders will be issued with a blank training kit heading into the new year for when they are out riding alone as some fear being tracked down and attacked by lone wolf assailants.
Adams was recently defiant in conversation with the RadioCycling podcast, saying he didn’t want the war to change how the team operated. “Should we be intimidated by genocide terrorists? When ISIS threatened the world, did it stop turning? Should we be afraid then?” he said. “No, we are not going to bow down to that. We continue with our daily work. We expect a normal season and are not going to hide.”
It appears a compromise has been reached: the blank training kit is currently being produced to be delivered to riders in the new year. It is not mandatory but will be allowed if the riders want to wear it when out training at home. However, when riders are together, for example, at training camps or before races, they will be wearing the regular team kit.
“The 2024 season will be our 10th season in the pro peloton and we will continue to proudly race as Israel-Premier Tech,” the team said in a statement. “The safety and security of our team members is of the utmost importance and as such, the team has implemented some measures for the 2024 season. This includes the use of a training kit, which our riders can opt to wear when outside of the race bubble and training alone, if they deem it necessary.”
Security concerns are nothing new for the team. At the 2022 Tour de France Grand Départ in Copenhagen, the team were given 24/7 police protection, something that happens whenever an Israeli delegation are in town following the terrorist attack outside the Danish capital’s Great Synagogue in 2015.
And at the recent end-of-season races in Veneto, Italy, the team’s last of the year in Europe and which took place not long after the Hamas attack and the start of this stage of the conflict, heavily armed police escorted the team bus at the start and finish and team vehicles were thoroughly checked for explosives. A spokesperson said this was nothing new as a result of the war and had been common practice for the team in Italy for the past few years.
Protestors waving Palestinian flags are a common sight at races where the team is present, but are often peaceful and small in number. Whether this will change in 2024 will be something the team and race organisers will surely be keeping a close eye on.
Having finished the 2023 season ranked as one of the top two ProTeams, Israel-Premier Tech will receive wildcard invitations to all WorldTour races in 2024. A team spokesperson confirmed that so far the team has received all other invites as normal and there haven’t been any issues.
Depending on developments in the war, there is the possibility of heightened protest, with Israel-Premier Tech one of the highest-profile delegations of the country that regularly appears on the international stage. One potential bellwether could be the UAE Tour, which the team has raced since 2020, and Adams has previously called “emblematic of how cycling can be a force for diplomatic openness and progress.” Per the team’s automatic WorldTour wildcard inclusion on the start list and confirmation that their calendar has been unchanged by the conflict, nothing is changing on their side. The UAE, which established formal diplomatic relations with Israel in 2021, plans to retain those ties, according to Reuters.
Despite the title name, kit, smattering of homegrown riders, and off-season training camp visits to Israel, the team is not much different to any other professional outfit. The majority of riders are European and for most this team is hardly their first. Similarly with the staff, this is not their first job in the sport.
Most will likely keep their heads down and just try to get on with their jobs. Others, such as Chris Froome, the team’s highest-profile rider, has been vocal in his support for the Israeli cause on social media.
All riders and staff are having to deal with a new normal in their working lives, concerns of their employment being a political statement would have been much smaller upon joining the team in more peaceful times. Despite Adams’ wish for his team to not be a mix of sports and politics, rather a vehicle for “sports diplomacy,” there is no doubt it will be a hard task to operate as normal as the war continues to unfold.
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