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Iran face sanction for Israel boycott

George Chesterton
Monday August 16, 2004
The Guardian

Officials of the sport's ruling body debated the possibility of sanctions against the entire Iranian judo team at an emergency meeting yesterday, after an Iranian world champion forfeited his match against an Israeli, apparently because of his country's refusal to compete against the Jewish state.
The officials could not reach a conclusion and new talks were scheduled for today.

Arash Miresmaeili was drawn against Ehud Vaks of Israel in the first round of the under-66kg class on Thursday, but soon afterwards there were rumours that he would pull out.

The official reason for his non-appearance yesterday was a failure to make the weight, but International Judo Federation officials were questioning how such an experienced competitor – Miresmaeli carried Iran's flag in Friday's opening ceremony – could have made such a basic error.

"If this situation has arisen from a political decision the IJF will react to it," said the federation's spokesman Michel Brousse. He would not confirm reports that the 2001 and 2003 world champion had weighed in 2kg over the limit but said the difference was so significant that it warranted an official investigation.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution Iran has refused to recognise Israel's right to exist. The Iranian National Olympic Committee in Tehran yesterday issued a statement saying: "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."

When asked if it was the athlete's decision to pull out, a spokewoman replied: "No."

Miresmaeili was quoted by an Iranian news agency 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 . . . I am not upset about the decision I have made."

The International Olympic Committee declined immediate comment, reluctant to intrude on such a sensitive political matter.

"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 IOC.

One of the principles of the Olympic Games is to encourage competition transcending the boundaries of race and creed. The Israeli team spokesman Yaron Michaeli said: "We have come to Athens to participate in sport and not in politics. The nationality of Israel's opponents is unimportant."

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