LONDON - President Shimon Peres has cancelled his visit to the Olympic Games in London due to the refusal of the Olympic organizing committee to allow him to sleep in the Olympic village over Shabbat night.
The Israeli president, despite not being religious, does not travel publicly on Shabbat and will therefore not be able to attend the Olympic opening ceremony.
The President's office has been working on the visit to London for months. Peres had planned, along with dozens of other heads of state, to watch the opening ceremony in 17 days.
However, when his staff realized that the ceremony will go on for hours and will end at the beginning of Shabbat at sundown on Friday afternoon, they began looking for alternatives to travel back to his hotel by car.
They sent an official request to the organizing committee through the Israeli embassy in London and the Israeli Olympic committee to allow Peres to sleep on Friday night in the Olympic village, by the main stadium, which would allow him to walk from the ceremony.
Sources in the organizing committee were mystified by the president's announcement, since there are at least two suitable hotels at walking distance from the Olympic village.
Despite pressure on the committee and personal messages sent to the chairman, Lord Sebastian Coe, the request was refused by the committee due to the rules that only athletes stay in the Olympic village. Other alternatives were explored including the possibility of transporting Peres by a special Halachically-authorized electric vehicle but these were rejected for logistical and security reasons.
Peres finally decided to forego his trip to London and his office issued today 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 responded to the report saying that "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."
Spokesperson for the organizing committee said that they could not comment on travel arrangements of visiting heads of state.