Israel-Premier Tech have all but been relegated from the WorldTour. Barring some last-minute administrative or political jousting, Sylvan Adams’ team will not receive automatic invites to top-level races such as the Tour de France in 2023 and beyond.
However, had the battle to avoid the drop been closer, as riders joked as early as May that some squads may be forced to send their A-teams to China for a showdown in Guangxi, Israel-Premier Tech could have found themselves at a significant disadvantage through no fault of their own.
Partly in light of the relegation scrap, teams signed up for all manner of late-season races in anticipation of a desperate scramble for UCI points. This includes the Tour de Langkawi, which saw six WorldTour squads (as well as four ProTeam outfits) arrive for what would be the race’s highest-quality start line in years.
Amongst those six top-tier teams were five relegation embattled organisations. Movistar, Cofidis, EF Education-EasyPost, Astana-Qazaqstan and Lotto-Soudal. Not among them was Israel-Premier Tech.
“I can confirm that we requested to race at the Tour of Langwaki but were not granted an invitation,” Israel-Premier Tech told CyclingTips. “We certainly hope and look forward to racing in Malaysia in the future.”
This rejection will end up having minimal impact on the overall relegation battle, at least in terms of points. It’s too late for ISN anyway. But it is a piece of evidence that may prove useful in ISN’s expected trip to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where the team is likely to argue that an uneven playing field – not all teams race the same races, and thus have access to the same points – creates an unfair system.
Failing to gain an invite to one race or another is, of course, a fairly regular occurrence at races, with only so many spots on the start line up for grabs. Another WorldTour team manager confirmed to CyclingTips that his team, too, had been rejected from a number of lower-level races, which are capped on the number of WorldTour teams they can invite.
What is not common about ISN’s omission is the factor of Malaysia’s ban on Israelis from entering the country.
Israel and Malaysia have no diplomatic ties and Israelis are barred from visiting the South Asian country. In 1997, Israel’s cricket team was the first official visit of an Israeli sporting delegation to the Muslim-majority country, and the squad were greeted by protest. Malaysia’s Foreign Minister was forced to clarify the country had no intention to establish diplomatic ties with Israel had honoured all agreements in a signed treaty with Palestine.
In 2010, an Israeli boxer was given a special visa in order to appear on a TV reality show about boxing but in 2015 two Israeli windsurfers were denied visas in order to compete at the Youth Sailing World Championships, the same thing happened to Israeli table tennis players at their world championships a year later. In 2021, the World Squash Federation cancelled a world championships in Malaysia after the Israeli team was banned from the country.
We do not live in a peaceful world and fractious relationships between nations and peoples persist. The Tour de Langkawi had hoped before this year’s race to get five WorldTour and five ProTeam squads on the start line and so surpassed their expectations. The specific reasoning behind the declined request from Israel-Premier Tech to race is not known, but with adequate demand from other squads, the decision to decline the Israeli team’s request was made even easier.
As a trade outfit, Israel-Premier Tech is not wholly made up of Israeli riders and staff, meaning they could have attended the race without a single Israeli in tow. However, a kit bearing the country’s name, national colours and the team’s Star of David-inspired logo, Israel’s presence would have been felt.
Potential CAS cases aside, the exclusion runs against the UCI’s stated values as well.
“Cycling is an open and accessible sport that is committed to the values of gender equity, diversity and inclusion,” reads the top line on the section of the UCI website dedicated to diversity and inclusion.
“Our Constitution is unequivocal when it comes to our duty to ensure ‘equality between all the members and all the athletes, licence-holders and officials, without racial, political, religious, gender-related or other discrimination,’” cycling’s governing body continues.
Israel-Premier Tech’s omission isn’t a black-and-white contravention of the UCI’s constitution, but it is difficult to imagine the squad being present on the start line, potentially at the cost to its WorldTour status.
There are 14 countries that do not currently recognise the state of Israel or admit Israeli passport holders. On that list is Saudi Arabia, which hosts the Saudi Tour. Israel-Premier Tech has not competed in either of the two editions since the race returned to the calendar in 2020.
Following a decade of improving relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Israel-Premier Tech began competing in the UAE Tour in 2020, the year in which the squad gained WorldTour status and received an automatic invitation to the WorldTour stage race.
There is a world in which this omission could have proved incredibly costly to the team. A maximum of 20 UCI points are on offer for the winner each of Langkawi’s eight stages and 200 points for the overall victor. Lack of access to these points, and the simple fact that all 20 WorldTour teams did not compete directly against each other for much of the season, could affect the outcome of any looming court case.