UK slams Iran for stance toward Israeli athletes

After Iranian swimmer refuses to compete against Israeli, British Foreign Office calls on International Olympic Committee to take up issue.

GAL NEVO 311 (photo credit: FIsrael Swimming Association)
(photo credit: FIsrael Swimming Association)
The UK Foreign Office on Wednesday criticized the Iranian stance toward Israeli athletes and the Olympic spirit. The criticism came after the president of the World Jewish Congress called on world sports federations to prevent Iran from participating in international competitions until Tehran ends its ban on Iranian athletes competing against Israelis.
Earlier this week, Iranian swimmer Mohammed Alirezaei refused to participate in a heat against Israeli counterpart Gal Nevo at the FINA World Swimming Championships.
RELATED:Iranian Alirezaei cites drowsiness as cause for withdrawal
A spokesperson for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office told The Jerusalem Post that while the issue should be taken up by the International Olympic Committee, the incident “suggests that the Iranians care as much about the spirit and point of the Olympic games as they do about nuclear non-proliferation and human rights.”
President of the WJC Ronald Lauder said in a statement that “Israeli sportsmen are the only ones worldwide targeted by such a racist boycott, yet leading federations such as the International Olympic Committee and others are reluctant to take strong and unequivocal action.
“It is high time that a strong signal is sent to Iran that unless this long-standing boycott is lifted, Iranian athletes will not be allowed to enter major international events such as next year’s Olympic Games in London.”
The International Olympic Committee responded that “refusing to participate in an Olympic event because of a fellow athlete/team’s religion or nationality, would not only be unsporting behavior but a serious breach of the principles of the Olympic Charter, which clearly states that ‘any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics and gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.’
“There can be no place for discrimination at the Olympic Games,” the committee added.
Alirezaei said he pulled out of the heat because he was “tired and drowsy” after a long “wait for his visa.” At the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Alirezaei also refrained from racing against an Israeli competitor, claiming he was ill.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said in an article published Wednesday on the Foreign Office website that the 2012 London games would be about “bringing people together under the Olympic values of friendship, respect and excellence.
“Every country participating in the 2012 Games will be welcomed, but we have in turn the right to expect them to embrace the spirit of the Games,” said UK Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould. We very much hope that all countries will participate, and that there will be no boycotts against competing countries. Boycotts are the antithesis of the Olympic spirit.”
FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu told AP after the incident that Alirezaei’s withdrawal would be examined.
“If this is the case, there’s no point in coming to the world championships. We don’t need these politics in our sport,” he said.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Arash Miresmaili, an Iranian Judo competitor, refused to fight Israeli Ehud Vaks. He was subsequently given $125,000 by the Iranian government and praised by then mayor of Tehran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who said he had “earned eternal honor.”