Iran wrestling head quits, refusing to lie over facing Israelis

AFP , Wednesday 28 Feb 2018

American J'den Michael Tbory Cox (red) wrestling with Iran's Alireza Mohammad Karimi Mashiani at the Rio Games. The Iranian picked up a six months ban in November for deliberately avoiding an Israeli opponent (Photo: AFP)

The head of Iran's wrestling federation resigned on Wednesday after criticising authorities for letting athletes pay the price for the ban on facing Israeli opponents.

Wrestling is a hugely popular sport in Iran where Rasoul Khadem, an Olympic gold medallist, was re-elected as president of the Wrestling Federation just two months ago.

But in a somewhat cryptic letter published on the federation's website he suggested he had been forced from his post, saying "apparently it is not going to work out" because of "my awkward mentality".

"I cannot lie. Sometimes the best way to take a stand is not to stand," he wrote.

The councils for freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling announced they were resigning en masse along with Khadem, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

Khadem had recently criticised Iranian authorities for their approach to competing against Israeli opponents.

It followed a six-month ban given to Iran's Alireza Karimi Mashiani by the United World Wrestling Disciplinary Chamber for deliberately losing a match at the under-23 world championships in Poland in November in order to avoid an Israeli opponent in the next round.

His coach Hamidreza Jamshidi was banned for two years.

Khadem, argued that Iranians should openly admit they will not compete against Israelis rather than invent excuses, and accept the consequences.

"If we must continue with the policy of non-competition against the Zionist regime's athletes, the responsibility cannot fall on the shoulders of the coach and the athlete," he said on public radio, according to ISNA.

He said a "fundamental solution" needed to be reached by the Supreme Council for National Security.

"Forcing an athlete to accept defeat or run around all night looking for a doctor's note is not right," he added.

He had previously told ISNA that, if the country's policy was to avoid Israeli rivals then it should "behave honestly and... accept the consequences".

 'Sympathise with Palestinians'

Dozens of Iranian athletes have boycotted competitions against Israelis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, either out of choice or under pressure from authorities.

But they have tended to lose earlier rounds, claim sickness or fail to show up, since an open refusal breaches international sporting regulations.

Perhaps the most famous was the decision by two-time judo world champion Arash Miresmaili, who deliberately showed up overweight for his bout against an Israeli at the Summer Olympics in Athens in 2004 and was disqualified.

He said he had done so "to sympathise with the suffering of the people of Palestine".

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Karimi Mashiani for throwing his bout in November.

"I truly feel proud of such behaviour that shows a young man, among our nation, is ready to sacrifice his desires and his right to earn a championship for the sake of a great, high goal," Khamenei said in a statement on his website in December.

Following the mass resignation of the free wrestling council on Wednesday, one of its members demanded a response from officials.

"We are not prepared to work under these circumstances," Ebrahim Javadi told ISNA.

"The officials have had no reaction to these important incidents and did not take any action. They must announce to international bodies whatever decision they take and make things clear so that we are no longer forced to lie," he said.

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