Israeli triathlete becomes first Israeli to compete in Saudi Arabia

"Shahar came to make professional history and not just diplomatic history," said the triathlete's coach.

(From right to left) Shachar Sagiv, Leonid Boguslavsky and Lior Cohen (photo credit: Static via Sport1)
(From right to left) Shachar Sagiv, Leonid Boguslavsky and Lior Cohen
(photo credit: Static via Sport1)

Israeli athlete Shachar Sagiv competed in the Super League Triathlon in Neom, Saudi Arabia on Saturday, becoming the first Israeli athlete to ever compete in an event in Saudi Arabia as relations thaw between the Kingdom and Israel.

While riding at a high speed on his bike, Sagiv slipped, hit the separators on the side of the track and fell forward. The triathlete grabbed his bike and ran to the transition stage, but the fall prevented him from achieving the fastest time in the first round, according to Sport1. Sagiv had difficulty catching up and in the third round did not get on his bike within 90 seconds of the leading competitor and was eliminated.

Sagiv finished the competition in 9th place in the general ranking and is ranked 18th in the Super League Triathlon ranking.

Lior Cohen, Sagiv's coach, pointed out that while the Israeli triathlon team had been prevented from entering a competition in Jordan, a country with which Israel has relations, a few weeks ago, he and Sagiv were able to enter Saudi Arabia to participate in the Super League triathlon on Saturday.

 Israeli triathlete Shachar Sagiv (credit: PR) Israeli triathlete Shachar Sagiv (credit: PR)

"I could really write a book about the before, during and even after. But I'll keep it short for you. The book will also come one day," wrote Cohen on Facebook. "Shahar came to make professional history and not just diplomatic history. Shahar arrived as an athlete with proven status and ability throughout the #futureoftriathlon season."

Before departing to Neom, Sagiv stated "I admit that I am very excited to be a trailblazer, being the first Israeli athlete to compete in Saudi Arabia. This is proof that sports build bridges between nations and countries."

Sagiv responded to his elimination on Saturday, stating "I am very disappointed. I came here to Saudi Arabia with a lot of expectations. Falling off the bike in the first round, when I was leading, denied me the prestigious title of the fastest rider in the round," according to Sport1.

Yael Arad, chairperson of the Olympic Committee in Israel, stated "The participation of the Israeli Olympic athlete, the triathlete Shachar Sagiv in the Super League round in Saudi Arabia is a very significant breakthrough in the participation of Israeli athletes in every tournament in every country in the world," according to Sport1.

Saudi Arabia's warming relations with Israel

Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, but has granted special visas to Israeli businessmen and journalists in the past. The Gulf state's unofficial relations with Israel have become warmer in recent years, with Bahraini Industry and Commerce Minister Zayed Bin Rashid Al Zayani telling Army Radio on Sunday that he is "optimistic" about the chances of Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel.

Sporting events have been exempted in some cases from the usual consequences of the lack of diplomatic relations between Israel and many Arab countries, with Israelis set to be allowed to attend the World Cup in Qatar in November.