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Parliament Moves To Ban Iranian Athletes From Competing With Israelis

Iran's Saeid Mollaei celebrates after winning in the men under 81kg category bout of the 2018 Judo World Championships in Baku, September 23, 2018. FILE PHOTO

A parliamentary motion to officially ban Iranian athletes from competing with their Israeli counterparts has pushed the country to the verge of becoming an outcast at international sports events.

Since the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 , the country does not recognize Israel and, based on an unwritten law, has prohibited Iranian athletes to compete with their Israeli counterparts.

The "double-urgency" motion was approved on Tuesday, May 12, with 43 votes in favor and no “nay” votes, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, mid-ranking cleric Mojtaba Zolnouri, announced Tuesday.

If passed into law, the motion will "legally" ban Iranian athletes to compete with Israelis, forcing the country's sports to face a possible international boycott.

The motion is a response to what Zolnouri described as Israel's "hostile actions against regional and international peace and security."

Article 11 of the motion emphasizes that "any competition or sporting event, whether formal or preparatory," between Iranian athletes and sports teams with Israeli opponents is prohibited.

The Islamic Republic legislators are also planning to force Iran's sports federations to take "appropriate measures to prevent the imposition of any international penalties and sanctions on Iranian athletes."

However, the motion was passed at a time that the International Judo Federation (IJF) has already suspended Iran's activities at all international events.

IJF decision was made last October after it was convinced beyond doubt that the Islamic Republic authorities had frequently forced Iranian judokas to refrain from confronting Israeli athletes.

Arash Miresmaili, president of the Islamic Republic's Judo Federation, who has been struggling in recent months to find a way to end the suspension, warned on April 26 that other sports federations of the country were facing similar disciplinary penalties.

Meanwhile, responding to the parliament's double-urgency motion, the Deputy Director of the Islamic Republic's official news agency (IRNA), Pedram Alvandi, lamented in a tweet on Tuesday that the motion, if passed into law, could "pave the way" for the suspension of all Iranian sports, and depriving the country of participation in the next Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Political interference and pressure on athletes in Iran are long-standing phenoma. An Iranian judo star, Saeid Mollaei, who left Iran following a "forced" loss to avoid competing with an Israeli judoka has repeatedly insisted that he was forced three times to give away matches to avoid facing Israeli athletes. He is now competing for Mongolia.

Mollaei's protests and defection to Mongolia last year was the prelude to the discussion over Iran's judo suspension. The IJF has announced that the sole condition for lifting the suspension would be holding a friendly match between Iranian and Israeli judokas.

The Islamic Republic Judo Federation has categorically dismissed the condition and filed a complaint with a sports court.

The CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) is an independent institution, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, authorized to resolve legal disputes in the field of sport through arbitration and mediation.

Several Iranian athletes, including judo Gold-medalist Saeid Mollaei, Mohammad Mansouri, and Vahid Sarlak are set to testify against the Islamic Republic coercion and pressure on Iranian athletes at CAS hearings.

In the meantime. the rules and regulations of the International Olympic Committee and all world sports federations explicitly prohibit avoiding sports matches for political reasons.

The Islamic Republic Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in 2017, in consolation to a young Iranian wrestler, Alireza Karimi, praised his decision to avoid an Israeli counterpart as a "commendable value", and presented him with one of his agate rings.

In October 2017, he also urged Iranian athletes not to be afraid of the international sports bodies, and consequences of avoiding matches against the Israelis, insisting, "The hell with their dissatisfaction, they are not capable of doing anything against you".

Nevertheless, several Iranian superstars have recently preferred to defect and emigrate to facing international boycotts.