World Bronze medalist in Judo, Mohammad Mohammadi Barimanlou of Iran has decided to retire since he had to face an Israeli judoka in the current international judo championship.
Based on an unwritten law, the Islamic Republic bans Iranian athletes from competing with their Israeli counterparts.
It is an open secret in the sports world that Iranian athletes regularly feign injury and throw matches in order to avoid facing Israeli opponents in international competitions as Iranian sports authorities order them to do so.
But some athletes and coaches have begun speaking out against this policy.
It is not the first time that Barimanlou presents an Israeli rival a walk-over. Two years ago, in Dusseldorf, Germany, he was forced to pull out of the competition to avoid facing an Israeli judoka.
Iranian Judo Federation (IJF) has claimed that since Barimanlou was not prepared for competition in the 2019 judo championship underway in Tokyo (August 25-September 1) he was eliminated from the team.
The 28-year-old Barimanlou immediately dismissed the IJF's claim as unfounded, insisting that his removal was because he had to face an Israeli athlete in the games.
Saying farewell to sports, the judo medal earner said on his Instagram account, "Let us hope for a day that our hearts genuinely beat for Iran's sports."
Exclusively speaking to Radio Farda, the Iranian head coach of Tajikistan's national judo side, who is present at the championship in Tokyo, expressed his deep regret for the elimination of Barimanlou.
"All coaches and the representatives of different teams across the world are sad about Mohammadi Barimanlou's absence, asking how long such incidents are supposed to continue?" Vahid Sarlak told Radio Farda.
According to Sarlak, Barimanlou was eliminated from the Iranian side just a day before the team was set to fly to Tokyo.
"Removing Mohammadi Barimanlou has had a negative impact on his teammates, including Saeid Mollaei who should defend his world title and gold medal," Sarlak noted.
Mollaei is also scheduled to face an Israeli athlete, but they will not compete against each other until the final match.
Mollaei has so far avoided facing his Israeli peers in different ways.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the IJF on May 9, the heads of the IJF and the Iranian Olympics committee announced that they would "fully respect the Olympic Charter and its non-discrimination principle." Iran’s reversal at the time might have been the clearest example of how the strict enforcement of international rules, including punishment and threats when necessary, can eradicate sports discrimination, Washington Examiner reported on May 28.
The International Judo Federation credited anti-boycott pressure from its president, Marius Vizer, and the IJF’s apparent threat to ban Iran from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, for prompting the letter. Fear of becoming a sports pariah led Iran to seemingly make the concession but Barimanlou’s decision might prove little might have changed in Iran’s policy.
Iranian military commanders have warned coaches and athletes to keep out of the ring of diplomacy after a handful of Iranian sportsmen criticized the Islamic Republic’s unwritten rule of forbidding athletes from competing against Israelis in international sports competitions.
“It is a non-negotiable principle that Iranian athletes must refrain from competition with Israelis,” said (now former) commander of the Baseej Resistance Force General Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar on March 19 in an interview with the state-run Mehr news agency.
General Gheybparvar had earlier accused supporters of allowing Iranian athletes to face their Israeli counterparts of "testing the waters for establishing relations with Israel," adding, “This is not something that one can test and see if the result is positive, then take further steps. No further steps will be taken, because we will break their legs as soon as they take their first step [toward Israel]."