Rasoul Khadem (Tehran Times) (Tehran Times)
Rasoul Khadem

The head of Iran’s wrestling federation lamented that the government does not give enough support to athletes who refuse to compete against Israelis.

By: AP and United with Israel Staff

The resigned head of Iran’s wrestling federation has asked the country’s diplomats to take responsibility and support athletes who refuse to compete against Israelis, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported Saturday.

The government usually rewards athletes for such behavior but Rasoul Khadem says diplomats stop short of taking a position in the international sports community.

The report quoted Khadem as saying Iran’s diplomats should defend the country’s political positions in sport.

Khadem resigned from his position on Wednesday in apparent protest but it was rejected by the Ministry of Sport and Youth.

In a letter published on Iran’s wrestling federation website on February 28,  Khadem suggested he had been forced from his post, saying that “apparently it is not going to work out” because of “my awkward mentality.”

Khadem, an Olympic gold medalist, was reelected as president of the wrestling federation two months ago.

Israel and Iran are bitter adversaries and Iranian athletes traditionally refuse to compete against Israelis.

In November, wrestler Ali Reza Karimi received a six-month ban by United World Wrestling after his manager, Hamidreza Jamshidi, ordered him to throw a match against a Russian competitor to avoid facing an Israeli wrestler during the U-23 World Championship in Poland. Iran’s sports ministry praised the athlete for supporting “human values.” Jamshidi received a two-year ban.

Iran, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, has long refused to engage in sports competitions against Israelis.

An Iranian swimmer refused to enter the same pool as an Israeli at the Beijing Olympics and in the 2004 Athens Games an Iranian judo competitor refused to face an Israeli and pulled out of the competition.

The last competition between Iranian and Israeli teams on the international level dates back to a wrestling match in 1983 in Kiev, Ukraine.

Occasionally, Iranian athletes who play for foreign teams have faced Israeli teams. In August, Tehran criticized two Iranian soccer players who play for a Greek team for participating in a match against an Israeli team.

Last February, Iranian karate athlete Majid Hassaninia refused to compete against an Israeli opponent at the 21st Open de Paris – Karate Premier League in France.

For years, Israeli athletes have faced boycotts, snubs and logistical hurdles in sporting events involving Arab and Muslim countries.