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Former Gold Medalist Says Iranian Athletes Should Compete Against Israelis

Head of Iran's wrestling federation and freestyle wrestling coach Rasoul Khadem.

The president of the Iranian Wrestling Federation, Rasoul Khadem, says authorities should reverse their policy of not allowing Iranian athletes to compete against Israelis.

The Islamic Republic does not recognize the state of Israel, and has an unwritten rule that Iranian athletes should not compete against Israelis in international sporting events. In practice, this means Iranian athletes feign injury or throw matches to avoid facing Israelis in competition.

International sports regulations, however, dictate that athletes who engage in such behavior with political motives must be penalized.

Nevertheless, no Iranian athlete has been punished until now. On February 23, the United World Wrestling Disciplinary Chamber (WWDC) banned Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi from competition for six months, and his coach Hamidreza Jamshidi for two years.

In a video clip of the 86-kilogram category of the Senior U23 World Championship match held in Poland November 21-26, a voice can be heard clearly instructing Karimi to lose the match.

“Alireza, lose! You must lose, Alireza!” the voice urged Karimi, who lost the match.

Having lost one of his best athletes for the next six months, Khadem, himself an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, decided it was time to speak out about Iran’s unwritten rule barring its athletes from competition with Israelis.

“Whatever is decided [by the Islamic Republic’s top authorities] should be openly and officially relayed to the International Olympic Committee and enforced, otherwise Iran’s athletes will face grave consequences,” he said.

Khadem said the problem should be addressed either by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or the Islamic Republic’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), which is presided over by President Hassan Rouhani.

The Minister of Sports and Youth, Masoud Soltanifar, told MPs that he had written a letter to SNSC requesting its directive on the matter, but said the council has not yet responded to his inquiry.

In an interview with the reformist daily Etemad on November 28, Khadem insisted that Palestinians do not know that Iranian athletes throw matches against their Israeli opponents to show their solidarity with them.

“Nobody, save Israelis, are aware of the reason why Iranian athletes deliberately lose against their Israeli peers.”

Khadem says most of the athletes competing under the Israeli flag in judo and wrestling competitions are foreigners rather than citizens of Israel.

“Israel employs these athletes and provides them with temporary passports to compete in international sports events to disrupt the Islamic Republic’s agenda,” Khadem told Radio Tehran February 26.

The Secretary-general of the Islamic Republic’s National Olympic Committee, Shahrokh Shahnazi, recently insisted on Iranian television that“Tehran does not recognize Israel, and Iranian athletes will never compete with an Israeli or participate in a medal ceremony where an Israeli is present.”

In defiance of international sports regulations, Shahrokh Shahnazi reiterated, “We should argue that since Israelis are criminals, our athletes will never compete with them. We should also insist that our position against Israelis has got nothing to do with politics.”