25 Jun 2024
Tuesday 24 July 2012 - 16:40
Story Code : 3786

Iran and Israel not expected to face off in London Olympics

Iran and Israel not expected to face off in London Olympics
By The Washington Post

TEHRAN The Olympics are supposed to be a time when nations put aside their differences, no matter how large, and square off on the playing field for some intense yet friendly competition.

But when it comes to Iran and Israel, two countries that have each been on edge with anxiety about the other this summer, it appears thats not going to happen.

Despite an Iranian assertion on Monday that its athletes would compete against Israeli ones at the 2012 Games, just hours earlier the Iranian team departed for London, leaving behind the lone athlete who had the possibility of facing an Israeli opponent.

On Sunday authorities had announced that that athlete, Javad Mahjoob, a judo champion, is suffering from a critical digestive system infection, forcing him to take antibiotics and not travel to the Games, which begin on Friday.

Mahjoobs absence has led to speculation that Iran is maintaining its long-standing policy of not allowing its athletes to compete with Israeli opponents.

Mahjoob himself has acknowledged going to great lengths to keep from squaring off against an Israeli. In a 2011 interview with the Iranian newspaper Shargh, Mahjoob admitted to throwing a match against a German opponent, saying that, If I won I would have had to compete with an Israeli athlete. And if I refused to compete with the Israeli, they would have suspended our Judo federation for 4 years.

Israels judoka in the 100-kilogram weight class, Ariel Arik Zeevi, will be competing in his fourth Olympic Games. The 35-year-old won a bronze medal at the 2004 Games in Athens, and is widely considered to hold one ofIsraels best chances of taking home a medalin London.

Zeevi told the Associated Press last month that he did not understand athletes who bring politics into the sporting arena. When you are doing judo, football, basketball, you have to show up on the field, do your best. It doesnt matter who you fight, Zeevi said. For me, I dont have any problem to fight against a sportsman from any country, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria.?.?.?.I really dont understand it.

Iran has had a stated policy for years of avoiding competition with Israeli athletes. In 2004 and 2008, athletes cited injuries in withdrawing from events in which they would have had to face Israelis.

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Roggedeclared last monththat those days are over. Beginning in London, he said, those who sit out events based on their opponents race, ethnicity or nationality will be punished.

If nation A does not appear at the competition against nation B, we will ask for explanations, Rogge said. If the explanation is not satisfactory and valid at the end of it and is not credible, then we will go into cross-examination by an independent medical board. And if the medical board says it is not a genuine reason, then sanctions will be taken. That is quite clear.

Days after the IOC announcement, Iranian Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Mohammad Abbasi toldthe Islamic Republic News Agencythat not competing with Zionist athletes is one of the values and sources of pride of the Iranian people and its athletes.

On Monday, Iran chief of mission Bahram Afsharzadehtold the Associated Pressthat the countrys athletes would compete against Israelis. But it was not clear how that could happen with Mahjoob still in Iran.

It is unclear whether the IOC will look into Mahjoobs absence.


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