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The effects of Donald Trump’s backing of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital have ratcheted up tensions in the area, and may yet have an effect on the decision to stage the start of next year’s Giro d’Italia there. But there has been a more immediate outcome relating to cycling: Ahmet Orken, the Muslim rider signed by the Israel Cycling Academy, has left the squad.
When Orken joined the team the squad said it was proof that it was above politics. He signed a two-year contract in September and recently attended the team’s first training camp. As part of that he was named as a Peace Ambassador by the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation.
However, in the wake of the decision by Trump – which has led to criticism by, and tensions with, Palestine, the UN and others – Okren has decided that he should not continue with the squad.
According to an Israel Cycling Academy statement, in the days after Trump’s announcement Orken contacted the team and said that he wanted to have his contract dissolved. It said that he cited ‘the effect that the recent events in the middle East had on me and my family.’
The team said that its general manager Ran Margaliot travelled to the Turkish champion’s hometown of Konya, asking him to reconsider. After what it said was ‘intensive discussions’ with he and his family, the rider said that he would take some time to weigh things up. However he later told the team that he wanted to be released.
“This is heartbreaking for all of us,” said Margaliot in the statement. “Ahmet is a great athlete and a great person. He joined our program with a vision and commitment to putting sport–and with it, peace–above politics. It was a brave decision and one that was received with widespread support and approval among the Israeli and Turkish people.”
In the statement, Orken was quoted as saying he was thankful with the opportunity he got from the team. “Unfortunately, recent events have forced my hand. My family in Konya–and especially my mother and brother–have found themselves in a dire situation. While I am thankful to be a professional cyclist, I am a dedicated son and brother first and foremost.
“I remain deeply thankful to the team, I have been treated like family from the very beginning. This was a unique opportunity for me both on and off the bike. I will continue to cheer for this program moving forward–both on and off the bike.”
Margaliot said that the team is disappointed by the decision to leave, but that they “only want what is best for him and his family.
“The doors of Israel Cycling Academy will be open for Ahmet and we certainly hope to see him rejoin us. Though it makes us all sad to see Orken leave, we will not be deterred from our deep belief in this team’s message of peace and co-existence.”
Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and recognise that city as the Israeli capital is leading to increased tensions throughout the region. Both Trump and the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley threatened other countries prior to a UN General Assembly vote held on Thursday.
They suggested that there would be financial repercussions if those countries voted in favour of a resolution that condemns Trump’s decision.
A vast majority of countries nevertheless backed the resolution, voting 128-9 to declare the US’s recognition of the capital as null and void.