An Iranian wrestler competing at the U23 World Senior Wrestling Championship in Poland was forced to forfeit the fight so he wouldn’t have to face an Israeli wrestler in the following round.
The wrestler, Alireza Karimi-Machiani, was on his way toward trouncing his opponent, Russian wrestler Alikhan Zhabrailov, on Saturday when Karimi-Machiani’s coach ordered him to lose. Karimi-Machiani initially resisted the order, but eventually acquiesced.
Karimi-Machiani was not happy about it.
“I tried hard for months to get the world gold medal,” the wrestler told the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA). “Achieving a world medal is the only happiness for any of us.”
Karimi-Machiani added, “I do accept that Israel is an oppressor and commits crimes. But would it not be oppression if our authorities undermine my hard work again?”
The “again” is a reference to 2013, when Karimi-Machiani forfeited a wrestling match to avoid facing an Israeli wrestler.
Iran’s Wrestling Foundation hailed Karimi-Machiani as a “hero” for forfeiting the fight. Iranian Cleric Javad Jalal tweeted, “We will not step onto the mat against Israel until the army of Islam triumphantly steps onto the Holy Land of Palestine.”
Iran does not allow its athletes to face Israelis in sporting matches. In August 2016, two Iranians were suspended for facing an Israeli soccer team. One of the players was expelled from the team while the other rejoined after issuing a public apology. Iran and Israel have not faced in each other in sporting competitions since 1983.
Israeli athletes have constantly faced similar instances of prejudice from athletes of Arab countries. For instance, an Egyptian Judoka refused to shake the hand of an Israeli Judoka in the 2016 Olympics and Tunisia’s tennis federation forbade its tennis star from facing an Israeli in a match.
Back in October, an Israeli who won the Judo gold medal sang the Israeli national anthem to himself since the United Arab Emirates wouldn’t play it.