Netanyahu’s speech about the Iranian wrestler touched important issue

The Islamic Republic of Iran has been the one politicizing sport and has used it to achieve political objectives.

December 9, 2017 21:21
3 minute read.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jeru

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Jerusalem. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)


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Last Monday afternoon, Netanyahu released a video on social media talking about Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi. The Iranian wrestler deliberately – and due to his coach’s instruction – lost to his Russian opponent Alikhan Zhabrailov in order to skip facing Israeli wrestler Uri Kalashnikov.

The Israeli prime minister condemned the inducing of Iranian athletes to take such actions. He included the same message of “not having a problem with Iranian people” that has been expressed several times by Israeli high-ranking officials. He even suggested that people should close their eyes for a moment and think of Alireza Karimi.

Shortly after the release of the video, it was published in Persian diaspora media. Among these outlets, BBC Persian, which even put Persian sub-titles on the video. The reactions of Iranians in the diaspora on the social media were not an affirmative kind.

Several Persian commentators condemned Netanyahu’s speech, arguing that a political figure with such high position should not politicize the incident and accused him of endangering the Iranian athlete’s safety by mentioning his name.

Let’s say that the argument is partially valid as mentioning Karimi in the video could endanger his well being in Iran. But is it all? Do the Iranian elite in diaspora deal with the issue fairly? Do they see the whole picture?

Clearly, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been the one politicizing sport and has used it to achieve political objectives.
If you were born and raised in Iran, you know very well that there is an important unwritten rule for Iranian athletes who attend international competitions. The rule is: If you are going to face an Israeli athlete in any kind of match, whether as a team or individual, you better skip it and announce that this is your way of supporting the Palestinians – well, Palestinians means Hamas and
Fatah and Hezbollah in this case because those are the ones supported by Iran, not the Palestinians. Here, there is no need to go into details about how the Iranian government has brought mere misery upon Palestinian civilians and nothing else.

On the one hand, the issue here is about the indoctrination of all Iranian professional athletes by antagonizing the whole Israeli nation. We often hear the Iranian top officials saying that they have no problem with any nation and they only seek peace in the region. So, how forcing your athletes to hate the Israeli athletes can be interpreted as peace?

On the other hand, the Iranian diaspora, including its opposition and elites, have forgotten this issue. If it were not for Netanyahu’s video speech, no one among the diaspora folks would have spoken up for Alireza Karimi or any other Iranian athlete who has suffered such systemic indoctrination conducted by the Iranian government.

The pan-Iranian sentiment can never help the Iranians who do not want the current government. Often, its impact has been in favor of the government as a voluntary distraction tool. This diaspora has forgotten the main issue, which is indoctrination as a whole and its impacts on the Iranian athletes’ population. Instead, they have focused all the attention on the peripheral side of the story – whether Netanyahu shall or shall not release such a video, and mention Alireza’s name in his speech. 

The author has worked as human rights observer and journalist in Colombia, Iraq and Greece. Over the past three years, he has worked with refugees in Greece. Born in Iranian Kurdistan, he was exiled and now lives in Norway.  You can follow him on Twitter at @RamyarHassani, or email him at

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