The world wrestling governing body is set to investigate whether an Iranian wrestler, Alireza Karimi, deliberately forfeited a match to avoid having to face an Israeli opponent in the next round.
Two officials of Iran's Wrestling Federation have admitted that, based on a letter received from United World Wrestling (UWW), Iran is obliged to respond to an inquiry about Karimi’s match against his Russian opponent, Alikhan Zhabrilov, in the 86-kilogram category of the Senior U23 World Championship match held in Poland.
The subject has become so sensitive that the head of the Iran Wrestling Federation is set to defend the country's position in person.
“Hopefully, with a strong defense, Iran’s wrestling will not be suspended,” said the secretary of Iran’s Wrestling Federation, Reza Layeq, without elaboration.
In a video clip depicting the match in question, a voice can be heard clearly instructing Karimi to lose the match.
“Alireza, lose! You must lose, Alireza!” the voice urged Karimi.
Then, apparently as a precaution, Karimi’s caoch asked for time out and talked to the young wrestler in private.
Karimi returned to the mat, opened up his guard against Zhabrilov and let the Russian finish him off and win by using consecutive leg lace or ankle locks, a technique Iranian wrestlers are renowned for easily defending against.
However, as Zhabrilov pinned his Israeli opponent, Uri Kalashnikov, in the next round, Karimi was obliged to face his Israeli peer for the bronze medal. Karimi feigned injury to avoid facing Kalashnikov.
According to AP, UWW says several news outlets reported that Karimi has been directed by his coaches on November 25 to intentionally lose because Kalashnikov would have been Karimi’s second-round opponent.
UWW says its legal and ethics committees will review the matter in the coming weeks and make recommendations to the organization’s administrating body.
Admitting that “dangerous consequences” might be in line for the future of the sport in Iran, Iran Wrestling Federation deputy head Bani Tameem lamented, “Sadly, a number of people inside Iran have been busy collecting documents, evidence, and media reports on Karimi’s match against his Russian opponent to complicate the situation for Iran’s national sport."
Iran’s Wrestling Federation had explicitly announced that Karimi, by throwing the match against Zhabrilov and waiving his right, “defended people of Palestine.”
Other organizations in Iran, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) have also held ceremonies to praise Karimi’s “heroic” move in defense of the Palestinians.
“Your noble and heroic action in the world competition in Poland, abandoning the medal and the podium in support of the highest human values, is a source of pride and praise,” said a statement on the website of Iran’s Sport and Youth Ministry.
Based on an unwritten law, Iran has barred Iranian athletes from competing with Israeli opponents.