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He brought world-class cycling to Israel. Now he has the World Cup in mind.

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

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

The same is true when he paid the Giro d’Italia, the second most important road cycling race in the world, to hold its first three stages of 2018 across Israel.

Adams, a Montreal native who immigrated to Israel in 2016, imports major sporting events to Israel for media coverage that portrays his adopted homeland as what he calls “normal, Western democracy.”

For this reason, Adams is also a co-sponsor of the Israel-Premier Tech Bike Team, which competes in the Union Cycliste Internationale World Tour.

Sylvan Adams, center, with his Israeli Premier Tech riders at practice in Girona, Spain in January 2002. Photo by Noa Arnonvc

It is now organizing a bike race called The Peace Tour, which is set to take place next year in Israel and two countries it signed deals with in 2020: Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

“Sports appeals to by far the largest audience of any activity on earth,” he said in an interview at the Tel Aviv waterfront penthouse duplex where he lives with his wife Margaret.

But Adams has ventured beyond sport to burnish Israel’s reputation. In 2019, he brought Madonna to Tel Aviv to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest and drew for Israel’s Beresheet unmanned spacecraft, which reached the moon before the crash. “We wanted to land in one piece; We ended up in 1,000 pieces,” he quipped.

He strives even higher.

Adams now aspires to bring one of the greatest sporting events, the soccer World Cup, to Israel in 2030.

He is putting together a joint bid with Egypt and Morocco, an effort he will continue while he visits Qatar for the World Cup this autumn.

“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 State Department

Tal Brody, who serves as a volunteer goodwill ambassador for Israel’s foreign ministry, sees Adams as a national asset — someone who understands the value of promoting the country through sport and has the resources to bring major sporting events here.

It’s a subject Brody understands. As a basketball star Brody, who immigrated from New Jersey, led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the 1977 European Cup, a feat he famously heralded at the time as putting Israel “on the map”.

Adams’ mission “carries 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.”

These include the construction of a velodrome near Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv, sports training centers at Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University of Beersheva, an emergency room at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, and a pediatric unit at Wolfson Medical Center of Holon. Adams recently donated $1 million to help complete a bike path in Elad following a terrorist attack that killed three people in May.

Mark Mendelsohn, a friend of Adams’s in Montreal, said he had “become one of the most important Israelis in the international arena”.

The Jerusalem Post last year listed him at number 11 among the 50 most influential Jews in the world and called him the country’s “special envoy”.

A survivor’s son

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

Adams’ father, Marcel Abramovici, was a Romanian Holocaust survivor who worked as a butcher and animal felt dealer before ending up in real estate. He turned 100.

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 instilled over time, though he “wasn’t the kind of person to compliment his kids directly,” Adams said.

Lapid’s comment “made my eyes water,” Adams said.

Enjoyment and politics of cycling

As a child, Adams played several sports. A friend taught him to ride a bike and he loved it. At the recent international sports festival in Israel the MaccabiahAdams earned three gold medals and one silver medal in the Masters (senior) division of cycling.

Due to cycling’s popularity abroad, Adams splashes Israel’s name on team buses and jerseys. Rather than evoking hostility, such visibility often shows fans’ receptiveness, he said.

At last month’s Tour de France, cycling’s premier event, he had the same thought. As is his habit, Adams pedaled in front of the team before each day’s stage. He saw hundreds of people camping out in search of good spots. Many cheered him by shouting in French, “Israel, allez, allez, allez!” (Let’s go, Israel).

“You have no idea how friendly the crowd was to us. They’re just sports fans prone to having their minds polluted by the haters against us. They see us doing the sport we love and they hug us,” he said.

Israel’s critics cannot be swayed, he said, while those uninterested in international affairs but enthusiastic about sports can be reached.

“I how To go biking. I love Israel,” he said. “I use sport for diplomatic purposes and to raise our profile in a very positive way.”

Adams almost planned on July 6 when Simon Clarke, an Australian, became the first rider to represent Israel to win a stage in the Tour de France, a feat followed two weeks later by Hugo Houle, a Canadian who also represented Israel , was repeated.

The stage wins are “incredibly satisfying,” Adams said.

At this and other races, Adams also welcomed interactions with Israel’s critics. “I’m challenged and I love being challenged,” he said. He said he is less patient with those who argue that Israel’s embrace of gay rights, the environment and even sport is a way forward for the country whitewash his treatment of Palestinians.

“Every time we try to do something virtuous, we are accused of hiding behind virtuous deeds,” he said. “My projects are not there to convince or engage them. They should 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 best female cyclists, mostly in western Europe.

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

Author and editor Hillel Kuttler can be reached at [email protected].

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