McGill and Tel Aviv U team up in sports science research thanks to a $29M donation from Sylvan Adams

Donor Sylvan Adams, centre, is welcomed by McGill principal Suzanne Fortier and Dilson Rassier, dean of the education faculty. (McGill/Owen Egan photo)

The former Montrealer who brought the Giro d’Italia Grand Tour cycling race to Israel a few years ago has made a landmark donation to McGill University for research into optimizing athletic performance.

Sylvan Adams, who made aliyah in 2015, is giving $29 million for the creation of a sports science institute in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, part of the Faculty of Education, which McGill says will “usher in a new era of world-leading research and discovery in sports science, with the long-term goal of improving elite human performance and promoting healthier living across the human lifespan.”

It’s the largest donation ever to a faculty of education in Canada, the university says.

The Sylvan Adams Sports Science Institute (SASSI) will house laboratories and training areas in a new building near the Montreal Neurological Institute and adjacent to McGill’s Sir Arthur Currie Memorial Gymnasium on Pine Avenue West.

Approximately $24.4 million will be used to build the complex and purchase equipment, while $4.6 million will be allocated to research through grants, conferences, student fellowships, and international exchanges, notably with a similar institute Adams established at Tel Aviv University (TAU) in 2017.

“This contribution will allow McGill researchers and students to develop new insights into sports science education, research and practice, elevate the performance of Canadian athletes and improve our understanding of human health,” said McGill principal Suzanne Fortier.

While the focus will be on elite athletes, the ultimate goal is to advance knowledge of how everyone can benefit from more physically active lives.

The intention is to have McGill and TAU scientists join their respective strengths in physiology, biomechanics, motor control, psychology, nutrition, and molecular biology.

“Collaboration will be one of the key pillars for the success of this institute,” said Dilson Rassier, dean of the Faculty of Education. “This gift from Sylvan Adams will be the catalyst that will enable McGill, TAU and other collaborating universities from around the world to share information and ideas.”

Two research grants of US$20,000 each will be awarded annually to projects in which the principal investigators are from both McGill and TAU.

Tel Aviv University Canada’s CEO for Ottawa, Quebec and Atlantic Canada Sharon Fraenkel said, “Having seeing the development of the Sylvan Adams Sports Institute at TAU since 2017, I look forward to seeing the positive impact resulting from sharing information and collaboration of two world-renowned institutions.

“Sylvan Adams’s vision in expanding this important program to two top universities no doubt will increase TAU’s presence on the world stage and play a key role in promoting Israel as a scientific world leader.” 

Before immigrating to Israel, Adams headed one of Canada’s largest real estate companies, Iberville Developments, and was an outstanding amateur cyclist in his age category, winning multiple Quebec and Canadian masters titles. In 2017, he captured the World Masters Championship in Manchester, England.

He co-founded and owns Israel’s first professional cycling team, which competes in the top-tier UCI World Tour and this year was renamed Israel-Premier Tech, reflecting a new partnership with the Quebec-based company.

Besides trying to get Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on board with Israel to make a bid to co-host the 2030 FIFA World Cup, Adams is behind the first Middle Eastern Regional Ironman Championship, to be held in Tiberias in November.

In 2015, the now 63-year-old billionaire signed the Giving Pledge established by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates which commits the ultra-rich to giving away the majority of their wealth to charitable causes.

The Montreal Jewish community has benefited handsomely: Sylvan Adams’s name graces the YM-YHWA, Herzliah High School and the Segal Centre for Performing Arts, among other institutions, in recognition of multimillion-dollar gifts.

At the TAU Sylvan Adams Sports Institute, the only one of its kind in Israel, academics work with athletes and coaches in applying the latest science to athletic training. Among its facilities is a “hypoxic hotel,” a sleep lab simulating high-altitude conditions.

At the inauguration of its expansion this spring, Adams said, “This is not just an academic project… the idea is to be a cutting-edge facility that will enable tiny Israel to be the start-up sporting nation.”

He believes Israelis’ genius for innovation can benefit sports just as it has in so many other fields, and he makes no secret of his hopes the TAU centre will bolster Israel’s Olympic medal hopes.

Since making aliyah, Adams has devoted himself to promoting—and funding—Israel internationally through events that have worldwide audiences. His calling card identifies him as “self-appointed ambassador at large for the State of Israel.”

In a video, Adams said he calls what he is doing “sports diplomacy” that demonstrates that Israel is “a normal, modern Western country that is open, tolerant, diverse, free and democratic.”

He adds, “the beauty of being self-appointed is that you can’t get fired.”