International Judo Federation to probe Iranian-Israeli incident

athens | The International Judo Federation will probe whether Iran’s world judo champion Arash Miresmaeili deliberately failed to make the weight for his opening bout to avoid going up against his Israeli opponent.

“We are examining the case very, very seriously,” said IJF spokesman Michel Brousse.

The IJF executive committee held a meeting on the case Sunday and Monday, Aug. 15 and 16. “The IJF is very surprised that such an elite player could not manage to make his weight,” Brousse said.

“Maybe he has a diet problem. Maybe he could have had some problems in preparation. We have to know more about it,” he said. “If a decision has to be made, a decision will be made. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and we don’t want to accuse anyone,” he told The Associated Press.

By merely missing weight, Miresmaeili could claim that he had not ascribed a political motive to his actions and thus avoid any sanctions for his decision.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami praised Miresmaeili Aug. 15 for refusing to compete against his Israeli rival in the Olympic judo tournament. Iran does not recognize Israel and bans any contact with the Jewish state.

“The move by the Iranian world judo champion in protest to the massacre of Palestinian people by the Zionist regime will be recorded in the history of Iranian glories,” Khatami said, as reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency.

After Miresmaeili was disqualified, Iran’s ambassador to Greece praised Miresmaeili. In a message, Mehdi Mohtashami was quoted by IRNA as saying, “On behalf of all institutions and Iran’s embassy in Greece, I congratulate you on your courageous move to refuse to compete with a judoka from the Zionist regime.

“Certainly, the Iranian nation considers Miresmaeili as the real champion of the 2004 Olympic Games.”

IRNA quoted Miresmaeili’s explanation for forfeiting the match: “Even though I trained for months, and even though I am in good shape, I refused to compete against the Israeli opponent in order to express my sympathy with the suffering of the occupied Palestinian people, and the occupied Iraqi people. I do not regret my decision,” he added.

“I empathize with the Iranian,” Israeli judo contender Ehud Vaks told reporters Aug. 15. “I know that it was not up to him, because this decision was made for him. As a sportsman to another sportsman, I understand him.”

Israeli athletes suspected Miresmaeili stuffed himself with food before he was weighed to intentionally disqualify him from facing his Israeli opponent, Army Radio reported.

Vaks won the round on a technicality, but lost later in the day to Algerian Amar Meridia.

Miresmaeili, two-time winner of the World Judo Championships, finished fifth in the Sydney Olympic games four years ago. He carried the Iranian flag in the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics. Miresmaeili will not be allowed to continue in the consolation round of the competition in hopes of a bronze medal.

Although the incidents have been infrequent over the years, every time an Israeli and an Iranian have been pitted against each other, the Iranian has backed out, claiming injury or illness. At the 2001 world championships, Mahed Malekmohammdi refused to face Yoel Razvozov, while Asian champion Masoud Haji Akhoundzade also pulled out of a planned clash with Israeli lightweight Zvi Shafran.

In Tehran on Saturday, Aug. 14, it was reported that Miresmaeili was still due to receive a $115,000 cash purse set aside by the Iranian authorities for gold medal winners.

The Israeli team has refused to comment on the topic, claiming that they arrived in Athens “to participate in sports and not in politics.”