President Shimon Peres will not be cheering on the Israeli Olympic team in person, due to the refusal of the Olympic organizing committee to allow him to sleep in the Olympic Village on Friday night, the Jewish Shabbat.
The President's Office has been planning Peres' visit to the Olympic Games in London for months. He was supposed to watch the games' opening ceremony on Friday, July 27, along with dozens of other heads of state.
However, when his staff members realized that the ceremony will go on for hours and will not end before sundown, when Shabbat begins, they began looking for alternate ways for Peres to get back to his hotel, other than by car. Although the president is not observant, he does not travel publicly on Shabbat.
Peres' staff sent an official request to the organizing committee, through the Israeli embassy in London, and to the Olympic Committee of Israel to allow Peres to sleep near the main stadium in the Olympic Village on Friday night, which would allow him to walk home from the ceremony.
Despite pressure on the committee and even personal messages sent to the chairman, Lord Sebastian Coe, the committee refused the request, since the rules state that only athletes can stay in the village. Other alternatives were explored, including the possibility of transporting Peres by a special halakhically-sanctioned electric vehicle, but these were rejected for logistical and security reasons.
Peres finally decided to forgo his trip to London. His office issued a statement saying that "due to the fact that the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is on Friday evening, and there are no hotels in walking distance of the stadium, the president decided to cancel his visit and not desecrate Shabbat. The president wishes good luck to the Israeli athletes."
The President's Office said he understands the committee's decision. "The president is not elevated above anyone else and if there are rules that only athletes can sleep in the Olympic Village, we respect that," a statement said. The Olympic organizing committee has yet to respond.
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