Israeli-Canadian billionaire businessman Sylvan Adams played a significant role in the rescue of a group of 70 Afghan refugees, many of them female athletes and cyclists, who escaped after the Taliban regained control of the country. On Wednesday, they finally arrived in Rome after a journey of many months and were greeted by Adams.
This is the latest group, who together with two other groups totals 167 Afghans already rescued and resettled in France, Switzerland, and Canada, consisting of the Afghan women’s national cycling team, a female robotics team, families of diplomats, female judges, police officers, human rights workers, members of the Afghan parliament, and the last Jewish family in Afghanistan.
Among the latest group of refugees arriving with Italian visas this week were female cyclists, athletes, and individuals involved in the development of women’s sports in Afghanistan. Fearing the worst under the Taliban regime, they escaped the country to avoid living in fear and to continue their careers. One of them spent months in a Kabul prison, accused of helping young women study and practice sport. Now, these athletes will have the opportunity to begin their lives again.
Adams vowed his support to allow them to thrive in sport, particularly the cyclists. He is the co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy (ICA), which was founded in 2015 as a UCI Pro Continental team and made the jump up to the UCI World Tour level in 2020. The team is now known as the Israel Start-Up Nation.
Adams led the Afghan rescue operations which have been ongoing since September 2021, together with an international group comprised of diplomats, UCI President David Lappartient, and the Israeli NGO IsraAid, collaborating to extract and resettle all the rescued Afghans.
This latest group of refugees to arrive today in Rome had to endure the longest and most demanding journey. They spent the last nine months in Islamabad, Pakistan, while their diplomatic and bureaucratic issues were being resolved, and Italy could issue them permanent visas. In total, 300 visas were issued and most of the recipients will arrive in Rome over the coming days. The group of 70 will settle in the homes and communities of Italians in the Abruzzo region with the help of Humanitarian Corridors, an Italian aid foundation, and the Italian journalist Francesca Monzone.
“I want to personally thank Ms. Monzone, who was the first to contact me and the team with the desperate SOS call that turned our attention,” Adams said in a press conference at Fiumicino Airport that was also attended by government officials and Italian dignitaries.
“As a Jew, I am guided by the ancient Jewish cultural imperative called Tikkun Olam, a Hebrew term translated roughly as ‘improving our world,’” Adams said. “This is what guided us in Rwanda where we adopted the women’s cycling team and now plan to build a bike center there, and we hope to see the Afghan athletes get a chance to thrive like their counterparts in Rwanda.”
Adams drew a comparison between Aline Uwera, a 16-year-old cyclist from the Rwandan women’s cycling team who recently finished 3rd in the African Championships, and Mahnaz, 17, the youngest athlete in the Afghan refugee group. “It’s about giving them the chance to realize their dreams,” he said. “In fact, we are planning to partner with two professional women’s cycling teams next year – a WorldTour team and a U23 Continental team. I would love to see some of these Afghan women cyclists, together with their Rwandan counterparts, as well as perhaps Ukrainian, Israeli, and even Canadian riders reaching their dreams together to become professional cyclists. The door is open.”