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The decision of an Iranian Judo competitor in the Olympics not to face an Israeli rival hardly comes as a surprise. Olympic boycotts and counter-boycotts have been known in the past. The US boycotted the USSR and the USSR boycotted the US. All that resulted was better opportunities for other athletes and general poisoning of the atmosphere. The disqualification of Arash Miresmaeili because of his refusal to meet Israeli Judoka Ehud Vax did not help Vaks, but another Israeli, Ariel Ze'evi, won a bronze medal.
However, I was a bit more surprised to learn that many Iranians disagree with the boycott and with their government's policy toward Israel. Perhaps I should not be surprised. Iran was an ally of Israel until 1979, and Iranians and Israelis had ample opportunity to meet each other and form personal frienships.
I was pleased to find that Iranian opposition to the boycott was pointed out by an Iranian blogger, Hossein Derakshan. Hossein wrote:
I do not know if Iran's troubles stem in the main from its attitude toward Israel, rather than from its attacks on the "Great Satan" in the US, kidnapping of US embassy personnel in 1979, humiliation of the US and generally trying to injure US interests. Any relatively small country that writes "Death to the USA" on its missiles is probably asking for trouble.
However, this initiative is warmly welcomed, and bloggers and others are invited to take up the cause of Iranian-Israeli friendship. I have always been a firm believer that dialogue and friendship at the personal level can help break down barriers of hate and sabotage the aims of totalitarian regimes. Everyone who is a friend of democracy and peace should extend the hand of friendship to those who oppose intolerance and war mongering in their own country.
Judoka Praised by Iranian Government
ATHENS, Aug. 16 -- The Iranian government on Monday praised a member of its judo team for avoiding a match with an Israeli opponent, saying it was firmly opposed to any of its athletes competing against "the Zionist regime" during the Olympics or other international events.
The International Judo Federation said it would open a formal investigation that could lead to possible sanctions against the Iranian squad. Officials with the International Olympic Committee resisted calls to address the controversy, declining to say whether the entire Iranian team could be penalized for its policy of refusing to compete for political reasons.
"This issue hasn't actually come to our level," said Giselle Davies, a spokeswoman for the IOC, which has the authority to bar nations from participating. "The federation says it is investigating. At present, the IOC is not involved."
The political spat began Sunday, when former world champion Arash Miresmaeili showed up more than four pounds overweight for his scheduled judo match against an Israeli, Ehud Vaks. The Iranian athlete, who was heavily favored and considered a contender to win a gold medal, was disqualified on technical grounds but had been quoted previously as saying he might pull out of the match because his opponent was from Israel.
Judo officials at first said they were surprised that Miresmaeili -- the flag bearer for Iran during the Opening Ceremonies -- would fail to make his weight but added they had no proof that politics were involved. But Iranian leaders at the highest levels of the government in Tehran soon made clear that politics were indeed at the heart of the case.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was quoted by the state news agency as saying that Miresmaeili's actions would be "recorded in the history of Iranian glories" and declared that the nation considered him to be "the champion of the 2004 Olympic Games." Iranian Olympic team chairman Nassrollah Sajadi told the Sharq newspaper that the government should give the athlete a $115,000 bonus.
On Monday, a government spokesman said other Iranian athletes would be expected to do the same if confronted with an Israeli opponent. Iran does not recognize the existence of the Israeli state.
"Our policy is not to recognize the Zionist regime in any international event," the spokesman, Abdullah Ramazanzadeh, said at a news conference in Tehran. "We cannot accept the presence of anyone in international events under the flag of that regime."
Miresmaeili has given different accounts of whether he voluntarily withdrew or if he was ordered to report overweight. The Iranian news agency quoted him as saying, "Although I have trained for months and am in shape, I refused to face my Israeli rival in sympathy with the oppressed Palestinian people."
During the Opening Ceremonies on Friday, the Israeli team received a tepid reception from the 77,000 spectators. In contrast, the much smaller Palestinian team strolled around the stadium to rousing cheers.
Eddy Koaz, the chief of Israel's judo governing body, called on international judo officials to penalize Iran for refusing to compete. "We cannot let them just do it, because if they do it and nothing happens, other countries will do it again," he told Reuters.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, faxed a letter to IOC officials demanding that they take action as well.
"If the integrity of the Olympics is going to remain intact for future generations, the IOC must act," he said in a telephone interview. "This was clearly orchestrated and is the opinion of the government of Iran. It has to be nipped in the bud. Other nations are waiting to see how the IOC acts."
Michel Brousse, a spokesman for the International Judo Federation, said the panel's executive committee would conduct a formal investigation. He said the group had received conflicting information from Iranian athletic officials about whether Miresmaeili had botched his weight test on purpose.
"It is important to know if he was overweight intentionally or accidentally," Brousse said. "Everybody is innocent until proven guilty. We have to make sure it was not accidental."
"We are studying this case very seriously," Brousse added. "No discrimination -- not racial, not political, not religious -- can be tolerated. This is clear."
Vax, the Israeli judo contender, received a bye in the competition after his Iranian opponent defaulted. He lost in the second round, losing to a Muslim from Algeria.
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Replies: 6 comments
There is a difference between boycotting the games, like the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. did, and competing in the games but "picking and choosing" who you wish to compete against. I thought the U.S. boycott and the Soviet counter boycott were both silly. But at the very least those delegations understood, they would be ENTIRELY excluded from the Olympics.
Iran's actions are different. They want to send a delegation to the Olympics, but decide who they will and will not compete against. I am disappointed that the IOC looked the other way here, and is not doing anything about it.
The IOC should make a simple rule. If anyone in your delegation refuses to compete against someone else based on nationality, your entire delegation goes home.
Posted by Joshua @ 08/20/2004 05:49 PM CST
I think this kind of boycott actions should be condemned clearly. It may come hardly as a surprise, because it is regrettably quite normal that some Arab states use all available means to denounce Israel and assign it the status of a pariah state, but that doesn't justify this behavior. What upsets me particularly is the selective indignation of this athlete (and of a lot of Arabs regarding Israel and the Palestinians): Would Mireshmaeli feel the same sorrow he feels for the pledge of the Palestinians for the Tibetans, the African Sudanese, the Chechnians and so on? He probably doesn't feel any sorrow for Israeli civilians blown up in buses or supermarkets.
Posted by Ratna Pelle @ 08/21/2004 08:53 AM CST
Dear Iraqui blogger,
Posted by Schiele @ 08/21/2004 06:33 PM CST
Joshua, your suggestion would be a very bad rule for the IOC to make.
People are individuals; if Miresmaeili decided to exclude himself from the games that's his loss. If the IOC tried to send all the Iranians home because of the actions of one man, the dispute would take on an entirely different character and would probably blow up into a major incident involving all Muslim countries.
The man's made his statement, that's his business, you can take a view over his government's decision to support him but their policy on Israel is already well known in any event.
Posted by Chris @ 08/26/2004 07:47 PM CST
Make no mistake that the decision of the athlete was not his own. Here is an athlete in his prime, favored to win the gold in this event, and he has lost his opportunity to compete on the world stage. This has not been the first time the Mullahs in Iran have forced their athletes to pull out against Israel. If he had competed against the wishes of the government, he would have face serious consequences upon arrival in Iran, or his family would if he had chosen to not return. Also in response to Ratna, I would like to point out that Iran still is NOT an Arabic state. I hope that relations between the two countries will improve, there are a number of prominent Iranians who live in Israel including the Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, and the President.
Posted by Ali @ 09/01/2004 09:14 PM CST
What Miresmaeli has done (whether compelled or otherwise), clearly supports the following theory:
The survival of the 'Islamic' regime in Iran depends largely on the fomentation of hatred towards foreign, imagined enemies of the Iranian people.
The hatred for the United States and Israel, which we so often see flouted by followers of the current Iranian regime, is probably rooted in a deep sense of fear.
This fear is common in the Muslim world, and is particularly well fostered and exploited by the Iranian regime.
It is a fear of domination by foreign, non-Muslim, occupying powers that want only to control the resources of the Middle East, and are prepared to kill Middle Easterns en-masse, to do so.
When ideas that foster this fear are spread - particularly in familiar Islamic language - fear of subjugation by fellow Middle Easterners and Muslims becomes subdued... becomes 'a lesser evil'.
What the 'Islamic' regime in Iran, as well as Islamists around the world, have ingeniously realized, is the power of redirecting the fear of ongoing subjugation of Muslims, by Muslims, towards the more powerful fear of being subjugated by non-Muslim foreigners.
The solution to the current situation in Iran, and moreover, the Islamist insurgencies around the world, may, therefore, lie primarily in eliminating misplaced fear.
This is a job for Muslims, and Middle Easterners, just as much as it is for others.
Something for everyone to think about.
Posted by Yarden @ 09/03/2004 02:58 AM CST
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