He brought world-class cycling to Israel. Now he is aiming for the World Cup.

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TEL AVIV – The 30,000 fans filling Bloomfield Stadium to near capacity cheered wildly as Lionel Messi and Neymar, two of football’s biggest stars, scored in Paris Saint-Germain’s 4-0 win over the FC Nantes in the French Super Cup on Sunday evening. .

But the game’s broadcast international viewers were more the audience Sylvan Adams, 64, had in mind when he brought the game here.

Same when it paid the Giro d’Italia, the world‘s second most important road cycling race, to stage its first three stages through Israel in 2018.

A Montreal native who immigrated to Israel in 2016, Adams imports major sporting events to Israel to gain media coverage that portrays his adopted homeland as — in his own words — “a normal Western democracy.”

It’s also why Adams co-sponsors the Israel-Premier Tech cycling team that competes in the Union Cycliste Internationale World Tour.

Sylvan Adams, middle, with his Israel Premier-Tech riders training in Girona, Spain, in January 2002. Photo by Noa Arnonvc

He is now organizing a bike race, dubbed The Peace Tour, to be held next year in Israel and two countries he signed treaties with in 2020: Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

“Sport, by far, is for the biggest audience of any activity on Earth,” he said in an interview in the penthouse duplex along the Tel Aviv coast where he lives with his wife. Margaret.

But Adams ventured beyond sport to restore Israel’s reputation. In 2019, he brought Madonna to Tel Aviv to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest and supported the uncrewed Israeli spacecraft Beresheet which reached the moon before crashing. “We intended to land in one piece; we landed in 1,000 pieces,” he joked.

He aims even higher.

Adams is now looking to bring one of the biggest sporting events, the FIFA World Cup, to Israel in 2030.

He is preparing a joint bid with Egypt and Morocco, an effort he will continue when he visits Qatar for the World Cup this fall.

“I don’t care about football,” Adams said. “It’s not about me. It’s not about what I like. It’s about what other people like.

Fans at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Tal Brody, who holds a volunteer position as a goodwill ambassador for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, considers Adams a national asset – someone who understands the value of promoting the country through sport and has the means to do so. organize major sporting events here.

It’s a subject that Brody knows something about. As a basketball star who had immigrated from New Jersey, Brody led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the 1977 European Cup championship, a feat he proclaimed famous at the time that put Israel “on the map”.

Adams’ mission “has its weight in gold when it comes to public diplomacy,” Brody said. “The public should understand that he is doing very, very good things for Israel.”

This includes the construction of a velodrome near Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv, sports training centers at Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva, an emergency department at the hospital Ichilov in Tel Aviv and a pediatric ward at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon. Adams recently contributed $1 million to complete a bike path in Elad following a terrorist attack that killed three people in May.

Mark Mendelsohn, Adams’ friend from Montreal, said he “has become one of the most important Israelis on the international stage.”

The Jerusalem Post last year ranked him 11th among the 50 most influential Jews in the world and dubbed him the country’s “special envoy”.

The son of a survivor

Adams made his fortune with Iberville Developments, the Canadian real estate company founded by his late father. His Israel-related philanthropy amounts to “hundreds of millions of dollars,” Adams said.

Adams’ father, Marcel Abramovici, was a Holocaust survivor from Romania who worked as a butcher and trader in animal felt before landing in real estate. He lived to be 100 years old.

At the inauguration of Ichilov Hospital last week, Prime Minister Yair Lapid told Adams that Marcel “would certainly be proud of you today”.

It’s a sentiment Marcel’s friends have passed on over time, although he “wasn’t the kind of person to lavish compliments on his kids” directly, Adams said.

Lapid’s remark “got my eyes wet,” Adams said.

Pleasure and politics of cycling

As a child, Adams played several sports. A friend introduced him to cycling and he was hooked. At the recent International Sports Festival in Israel, the maccabeeAdams won three gold medals and one silver in the masters (senior) division of cycling.

Due to cycling’s popularity overseas, Adams splashes the name Israel on team buses and shirts. Rather than attracting hostility, such visibility often reveals fans’ openness, he said.

He had the same thought again during last month’s Tour de France, cycling’s premier event. As usual, Adams rode ahead of the team before each day’s stage. He saw hundreds of people camping for good spots. Many cheered him on, shouting in French: “Israel, go, go, go!” (Let’s go, Israel).

“You can’t imagine how friendly the crowd was to us. They are just sports fans, likely to have their minds polluted against us by haters. They see us doing the sport we love and embrace us,” he said.

Critics of Israel cannot be swayed, he said, while those uninterested in international affairs but passionate about sports can be reached.

“I As bike. I to like Israel,” he said. “I use sport for diplomatic purposes and to raise our visibility in a very positive way.”

Adams nearly plotted on July 6 when Simon Clarke, an Australian, became the first rider representing Israel to win a Tour de France stage, a feat replicated two weeks later by Hugo Houle, a Canadian also representing Israel.

The stage wins were “incredibly rewarding,” Adams said.

In this run and others, Adams has also welcomed interactions with critics of Israel. “I’m challenged and I like to be challenged,” he said. He said he was less patient with those who argue that Israel’s embrace of gay rights, the environment and even sports is a way for the country to hide its treatment of the Palestinians.

“Every time we try to do something virtuous, we are accused of hiding behind virtuous acts,” he said. “My projects are not there to convince or engage them. They must appeal to the silent majority.

In Rwanda, Israel-Premier Tech sponsors teams of children and young women and builds a cycling center. Over the past year, Adams and others have resettled more than 200 refugees from Afghanistan, including some of the country’s top female cyclists, mostly to Western Europe.

“I call the cycling team the Jewish people’s team. We have ‘Israel’ on the shirt because it’s my brand,” Adams said. “I see myself as the ambassador of cycling. I use the team to build bridges.

Writer-editor Hillel Kuttler can be reached at [email protected].

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