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.
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.