Mar­ket­ing through sports

I watched, on Fri­day, the first leg of the Giro d’Italia … from Jerusalem (and also yes­ter­day’s sec­ond leg from Haifa to Tel Aviv) and won­dered at the mar­ket­ing acu­men be­hind this ploy.

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

For it has be­come cus­tom­ary for the Giro to be­gin in an­other coun­try. But this one was dif­fer­ent – we don’t nor­mally think of Is­rael as a ‘nor­mal’ coun­try, but one un­der siege, with at­tacks, bomb­ings, and death all the time.

Yet here was Jerusalem (and Haifa and Tel Aviv) as per­fectly nor­mal cities with peo­ple out to watch and ap­plaud the cy­clists – and no sign of ten­sion any­where. This was a mar­ket­ing coup of the first or­der, as was also ev­i­denced by the pres­ence of cy­clists from all over the world, in­clud­ing some from the UAE team.

The footage also showed wide and per­fectly tar­ma­cked roads, even in the desert, and views of what had been desert turned into green agri­cul­ture pro­duc­ing wine and other prod­ucts. It was a fit­ting post­card of a coun­try that in the com­ing days will cel­e­brate its 70th birth­day.

There is, of course, a dif­fer­ent Is­rael, as the Pales­tini­ans will tell you; an Is­rael of re­pres­sion and of op­pres­sion. But in the wide arena of the world, im­pres­sions risk be­com­ing de­fin­i­tive if not coun­ter­acted.

Is­rael knows it gets bad press world­wide as the site of con­flict and re­pres­sion, so it ac­cepted (or even got it­self in­vited to) the Giro in­vi­ta­tion to host the first three legs of the 101st edi­tion.

Malta, too, has been on the re­ceiv­ing end of world­wide crit­i­cism and con­dem­na­tion for its fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion and an­ti­money laun­der­ing en­force­ment. It has replied to this crit­i­cism with all the worst tools in its arse­nal – blus­ter and non-replies (see the let­ters by Min­is­ter Sci­cluna to the Fi­nan­cial Times and by Kurt Far­ru­gia to The Guardian). The bru­tal killing of Daphne Caru­ana Gal­izia then shocked the world and put any hope of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion into the long grass.

The huge crowd that flocked to Tri­tons Square on Tues­day went there to hear the prime min­is­ter re­ply to the Daphne Project but in­stead heard noth­ing of the sort. In­stead, it heard Dr Mus­cat prom­ise an ex­tra 500 so­cial hous­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion.

I owe it to the Mal­taTo­day ed­i­tor, who last week pointed out that 1 May has been used, not twice as I said last week, but three times in a row when PL was in a tight cor­ner. We may safely as­sume there will be a fourth, next year on the eve of the EP and lo­cal coun­cil elec­tions.

The prime min­is­ter’s rhetoric, such as it is, will have per­suaded the Tri­tons Square crowd, but will it have per­suaded the rest of the world? I doubt. Far more in­tel­li­gence must be used.

It seems to me the most ob­vi­ous steps have been dis­carded, specif­i­cally of ask­ing the per­sons most crit­i­cised to step aside while in­ves­ti­ga­tions are car­ried out. It is use­less for the prime min­is­ter to say he awaits the con­clu­sion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions with­out ask­ing these per­sons to step aside at least tem­po­rar­ily.

Then we must come up, like the Is­raelis, with a strat­egy aimed at coun­ter­act­ing the im­pres­sion the world has formed of us. Not nec­es­sar­ily through sports, al­though that helps, but through any­thing that can help undo the stigma we have ac­quired. Af­ter all, as Min­is­ter Sci­cluna told the FT, it is only a small mi­nor­ity of rogues that is to blame. The vast ma­jor­ity are hon­ourable and law-abid­ing. This small mi­nor­ity of rogues have ac­quired a stran­gle­hold on the rest.

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