ATHENS (Reuters) â€“ Iran’s world judo champion Arash Miresmaeili refused to compete against an Israeli Sunday, triggering a fresh crisis at the Olympic Games where race, creed or color are not allowed to interfere with sport.
The International Judo Federation (IJF) failed to agree how to deal with the politically explosive issue at an emergency meeting and said it would hold further talks Monday.
The burning issue was whether any penalty would hit Miresmaeili alone or the entire Iranian team.
“There has been no decision and we are considering this situation very carefully,” said IJF spokesman Michel Brousse.
“This has not been brought to us as an issue and until it is, we would not have any comment,” said a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee, which pledges to uphold the ideal of sport transcending national barriers.
The official reason for Miresmaeili’s non-appearance was failure to make the weight but judo chiefs were questioning how such a seasoned athlete, who carried Iran’s flag at Friday’s opening ceremony, would have made such a basic error.
A statement by the Iranian National Olympic Committee in Tehran suggested the real reason had nothing to do with kilos.
“This is a general policy of our country to refrain from competing against athletes of the Zionist regime and Arash Miresmaeili has observed this policy,” it said.
Iran has refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist since Islamic fundamentalists toppled the Shah in 1979.
Right after the draw was made last Thursday there were reports that Miresmaeili, 66 kg world champion in 2001 and 2003, might pull out because his opponent was an Israeli, Ehud Vaks.
He probably would have lost anyway. Sad, that he couldn’t put politics aside.