The Hebrew state has no real sports diplomacy, but an unofficial ambassador on the issue: billionaire Sylvan Adams, at the helm of the Lille-PSG match on Sunday in Tel Aviv for the Champions Trophy. And for him, the big winner of this duel is already Israel.
Israeli-Canadian billionaire Sylvan Adams has sponsored some of the biggest events that have made headlines in Israel in recent years: the Cycling Tour of Italy – the infamous Giro – Madonna’s participation in the Eurovision Song Contest, the Mission SpaceIL intended to land a space probe on the Moon and, more recently, a football match with Lionel Messi, the famous Argentinian player.
Founder of the new Israel Start Up Nation cycling team which has aligned itself with the Tour de France, host of the Giro in 2018, linchpin of the Argentina-Uruguay friendly match in Tel Aviv the following year, investor in F1, Québéco -Israelian Sylvan Adams does not hide it: he does in his own way in “sports diplomacy”.
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And its latest coup is the holding, on Sunday evening, of the Champions Trophy which will see Paris St-Germain and Losc face off on the lawn of a Bloomfield stadium with a capacity of 29,000 seats for a match at ticket offices closed.
“The reason we are able to host the game here is that we are a little ahead of the curve when it comes to Covid. So the game will be played in a full stadium, something that the players missed during the last season in France, “he said in an interview with AFP.
In Israel, 60% of the population has received two doses of the vaccine, a proportion hovering around 90% among people aged 60 and over, which did not prevent authorities from launching a campaign for a third dose on Friday. – reminder – for the elderly at a time when the number of cases is on the rise.
If the health pass is the subject of debate in France, in Israel it will serve as the sesame – if not a PCR test – to enter Bloomfield stadium, planted in the largely Arab district of Jaffa, one kilometer from the seaside.
In recent weeks, a controversy had also swelled over the possible holding of an FC Barcelona match in Jerusalem.
“There was also a bit of disturbance about this French match (…) I like to think that it is actually a small group of people but it makes a lot of noise only because of social media Says Mr. Adams, whose father, Marcel, had fled the Nazi labor camps in Romania to briefly reach Palestine under British mandate, then settle in Quebec.
Sylvan, also a real estate mogul, made his alyah a few years ago. Since then, he has been promoting his adopted country through sport, which he considers “open, tolerant, full of diversity, and very democratic”, against, according to him, “the horrible word of apartheid Sometimes used to portray him.
“We have Arab policemen, doctors, nurses. There are Arab Israeli diplomats representing Israel abroad, Israeli Arab elected officials in the Knesset, and now an Arab party in the ruling coalition. That’s the real story (…) and we just want to show the real face of Israel, ”he says.
“Sometimes people ask me Sylvan, don’t you mix politics and sport? And I answer: not at all. I am not in politics, I am not interested in politics, for me politics is a partisan activity, but I would describe it all as diplomacy ”.
“Sport is a language that everyone speaks (…) and using sport for a positive diplomatic goal like forging links with our neighbors in the Middle East or holding a football match in Israel is like sports diplomacy. And I plead guilty to that idea, “argues this cycling enthusiast who has already trained in the Emirates, an Arab country that normalized its relations with Israel about a year ago.
In this sense, it doesn’t matter who from PSG or Lille wins the Champions Trophy, the “winner will be Israel”.
The sports diplomat, keen to present his adopted country in a positive light – or, as he emphatically puts it, ‘normal’ – is determined to continue investing money in high-profile events that will be broadcast to hundreds of millions of people around the world. And this time he set his sights on the Champions Trophy.
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