Iran reverts to boycott of Israel's Olympians

Tehran reverses itself a day after senior Iranian sporting official declared that his delegation will compete against any country.

July 24, 2012 21:42
3 minute read.
President Peres hosts Israeli Olympic delegation

Israeli Olympic delegation 370. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/GPO)

A meeting between athletes from Israel and Iran looked to be as unlikely as ever on Tuesday, just a day after a senior Iranian sporting official declared that his delegation will compete against every country at the upcoming London Olympics.

Bahram Afsharzadeh, head of the Iranian Olympic Mission, was quoted as saying on Monday that his delegation had no plans to boycott events because of the nationality of opponents. However, it took only a few hours for the Iranian media to claim his comments were misinterpreted, although the chances of an Iranian and an Israeli meeting at the 2012 Games are virtually nonexistent.

Following the withdrawal of judoka Javad Mahjoob, who may have faced Israel’s Arik Ze’evi in the under-100 kilogram competition, the only possible meeting between representatives of the feuding countries is in the 400- meter to be run by Israel’s Donald Sanford and Iran’s Sajjad Hashemi.

However, with seven heats expected in the 400-meter, odds are that Sanford and Hashemi will not be drawn together.

Nevertheless, even the slight chance that the two might share the same track was quashed on Tuesday when a report by the Iran’s official news agency, Fars, claimed: “In a satanic step, Zionist media published the words of the head of Iran’s Olympic Mission who announced that the Iranian athletes will compete against the Zionist regime’s representatives at the Olympics.”

The report came a day after Afsharzadeh – who is also the secretary-general of the Iranian Olympic Committee – seemed to guarantee that there will not be a repeat of the 2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Games where Iranian athletes withdrew from events against Israelis.

“We will be truthful to sport,” said Afsharzadeh, speaking in the athletes village after signing the “truce wall,” a UN-backed initiative calling to end all hostilities around the world during the Olympics. “We just follow the sportsmanship and play every country. In sport and in Olympics, all the countries must [be] together with the teams in friendship. Solidarity for all the countries is very important.”

Afsharzadeh even went as far as saying that Iran would “respect” a minute of silence in memory of the 11 Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics – if it were held during Friday’s opening ceremony.

No such commemoration is scheduled to take place.

Israeli athletes have come to expect boycotts by Iranian colleagues. There have been numerous incidents in global championships in different sporting events in recent years, as well as two much-publicized episodes in the last two Olympics.

Mohammad Alirezaei refused to compete alongside Israeli swimmer Tom Be’eri in the 100-meter breaststroke heats in the Beijing Olympics four years ago, while judo world champion Arash Miresmaeli disqualified himself to avoid a meeting with Israel’s Ehud Vaks in the under-66 kilogram competition in the 2004 Athens Games. Miresmaeli was later awarded the same $125,000 bonus Iran handed its gold medal winners from the Athens Olympics.

Olympic Committee of Israel President Zvi Varshaviak said Tuesday that he expected the Iranians to try and appease the International Olympic Committee, but predicted that it was no more than a ploy.

“IOC President Jacques Rogge recently said that if they will withdraw from competitions against Israelis they might as well not show up,” Varshaviak told Army Radio ahead of his flight to London.

“Regardless, I assume that they will not compete against us.

“If they happen to be drawn against us they will bring a note from the doctor saying they have a stomachache or their men will all of a sudden get their period.”

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