Israel is investing heavily in promoting the Red Sea resort city into a mecca for international athletic events from tennis to triathlons. A European swimming championship, a triathlon, a Desert Challenge and an Ironman contest are kicking off a year of international sporting events at the southern tip of Israel.

Eilat: World's newest sporting paradise


The 180K Israman competition runs through the Eilat mountains

By Avigayil Kadesh

Runners and racers: Start your engines and steer your way to Israel’s balmy Red Sea resort city of Eilat. A European swimming championship, a triathlon, a Desert Challenge and an Ironman contest are kicking off a year of international sporting events at the southern tip of Israel. And much more is yet to come, including Israel’s first formula auto race.

Over the next year, the Ministry of Tourism will invest over $1 million to promote this city as an international sports competition destination, says Oren Drori, senior deputy director-general and head of marketing at the ministry. "The infrastructures, climate, accompanying attractions and varied hospitality options in Eilat provide an ideal location for international sporting activities, especially during the warm winter months and for European competitions," says Drori.

Eilat’s Red Sea beaches are already among the world’s prime locations for snorkeling, diving, parasailing, boating, kite surfing and wind surfing.

Eilat: World's newest sporting paradise

Wind-surfing in Eilat (Photo: Israel Ministry of Tourism)

And it’s not just the coastline that attracts active visitors and tourists from many countries – especially from Europe. Some 25 charter flights every week bring tourists directly from Moscow, Amsterdam, Paris and Warsaw.

Last winter, a 21-kilometer (13-mile) ring trail around Eilat was rebuilt for bikers in cooperation with Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael-Jewish National Fund. An intra-city bicycle trail under construction will reach as far as the Peace Promenade at the Gulf of Aqaba.

Soon tourists will even be able to bring their ice skates along to perpetually sunny Eilat. An Olympic-size rink, a 400-seat theater for ice shows and a "snowy" play area are being built for year-round recreation.

On your marks …

About 120 professional swimmers from 21 European countries came to Eilat in early September for the European Open Waters Swimming Championship. The Israeli team won a bronze medal in the 5K race.
Following the European U23 Triathlon Championships on October 27-29, Eilat geared up to host the inaugural Israel Formula Race in early December at the brand new racetrack in Eilat, expected to serve the formula races for the next decade. While Israel’s first and only professional race car driving track is 1.5 kilometers long and relatively small, it has the advantage of year-round good weather. The open-wheeled single-seater motorsport event featured a drifting race with professional European racers, freestyle shows and tracks for men and women. The top 50 Israeli finishers will participate in a professional development course in France to become certified as professional racecar drivers.
On December 30th, Eilat hosted the first International Desert Half Marathon, with a choice of fun run, 10km and half marathon taking visitors and tourists through the surrounding desert landscape. The weekend event will end with a New Year’s Eve party.

Ironman, tennis, weightlifting in 2012
Israman, Israel’s version of the 22-city Ironman competition, is set for January 20-21, 2012. This exceptionally challenging triathlon includes a 4 km swim, 180 km bike ride and 42 km full marathon – all without a break, lasting 10 to 16 hours.

Eilat: World's newest sporting paradise

Eilat triathlon competitors

In February, Eilat will host the Women’s Tennis Federation Cup for the second year in a row – the first time any country will host two consecutive tournaments in the European-African division.
The Desert Challenge, Israel’s biggest and most professional mountain-bike marathon, will take place in Eilat at the end of February 2012, with three tracks for various riding levels and night runs. And in April, the European Triathlon Championship for all ages will meet in Eilat. Also on the Eilat schedule for 2012 are the U20 World Weightlifting Championships, International Academic Sports Association Championship, European Chess Championship and more.

Drori says all these events are being marketed overseas, mainly on the Internet and at international trade fairs in cooperation with the city of Eilat. If as many tourists come as expected, the city’s existing 51 hotels and youth hostels are likely to get booked up. "There are definite plans to increase the number of accommodation options as well as facilities and infrastructures that will allow for more high-scale events and competitions," Drori adds.

The Israel Airport Authority plans a new international airport about 15 miles north of Eilat, which will also help get people to the city on direct flights. As of the end of this year, the Ministry of Tourism has invested $13.5 million in infrastructure development in Eilat, with an additional $5.5 million planned for 2012-2014.