The International Olympics might be about putting sports above politics, but that sort of brotherhood is something the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Olympics Committee forget whenever it comes to competing against an Israeli.
Consider the following:
- In 2004, Arash Miresmaeil, a judo champion and the flag-bearer of Iran’s Olympic Team, withdrew from the Olympics rather than compete against Israeli Ehud Vaks. Then-President Mohammad Khatami, often described as a ‘reformist’ by Western journalists and diplomats, said: “Miresmaeili’s act will be recorded among the nation’s glories.” While Miresmaeil said he was boycotting for political reasons, Iranian authorities later said they were withdrawing him because he was overweight.
- In 2008, Iranian swimmer Mohammed Alirezaei pulled out of the 100-meter breast stroke race against Israeli Tom Be’eri because of “illness.” He subsequently pulled out of a race against another Israeli at the Shanghai FINA world championships because he felt “tired and drowsy.”
- In 2012, Iranian judo champion Javad Mahjoub pulled out of the London Olympics because of the likelihood he would need to compete against an Israeli. He blamed the need for a 10-day course of antibiotics.
When non-Olympic competitions are considered—the World Judo Championships, World Wrestling Championships, and the World Fencing Championships, for example—the list is even longer.
To withdraw from competition because of the nationality of an opponent is a violation of the Olympic by-laws, hence the scramble by Iranian competitors to come up with any number of medical excuses, no matter how implausible. Until now, the International Olympic Committee was content to let episodes like these slide with a nod and a wink.
In the aftermath of the refusal of two Iranian soccer players on a Greek team to travel to Israel for a match, the Iranian Football Federation issued a statement: “Undoubtedly, proud Iranian athletes have always shown that they have no interest in competing against the occupying Zionist regime, even at the Olympic Games and World Cup.”
Such a declaration seems to suggest a confession as to the real reason why Iranian athletes have withdrawn from the Olympics. If Iranian sporting officials are so bluntly acknowledging a violation of Olympic rules, perhaps it’s time for the International Olympic Committee to take long-overdue action.