A Muslim wrestler from Iran was instructed by his coach to lose a match in order to avoid facing an Israeli opponent. Iran has a history of boycotting Israel in the supposedly friendly world of sports. 

Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi-Machiani appears to have tanked a wrestling match at a tournament in Poland in order to avoid facing an Israeli opponent in the next round.

At the U23 World Championship in Poland last Saturday, Karimi-Machiani was well ahead of his opponent, Russia’s Alikhan Zabrailov, in the fourth minute. In a video clip of the match, a man’s voice—believed to be Karimi-Machiani’s trainer—can be heard saying “lose Alireza” as the Iranian competitor was winning. The trainer then stopped the match to speak privately to the wrestler, who went on to lose the match. Karimi-Machiani would have faced Israel’s Uri Kalashnikov in the next round.

Afterwards, the Iranian government was quick to praise Karimi-Mashiani.

“Your noble and heroic action in the world competition in Poland, abandoning the medal and the podium in support of the highest human values, is a source of pride and praise,” said a statement on the website of Iran’s Ministry of Sport and Youth, AFP reported.

Yet some Iranian social media users, using the hashtag #youmustlose, condemned Karimi for his actions.

“You were wrong, Karimi. You accepted defeat without imposing any cost against the main reasons behind your defeat. You just became their pawn,” the Twitter user @gh_shahraki commented.

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

Muslim Anti-Israel Sentiments in Sports

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

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

Israel’s Judo team encountered Muslim hostility in Abu Dhabi last month, when the country barred Israel’s judo team from donning national symbols and refused to play the Jewish state’s national anthem when Israeli Tal Flicker won gold.

The 12 Israeli athletes participating in the Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam tournament could not even include the letters “ISR” to identify their nationality on their uniforms.

Similarly, in one of the competitions, Israel’s Tohar Butbul beat the UAE’s Rashad Almashjari, who then refused to shake hands after losing.

Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al-Darei, president of the UAE’s Judo Federation, and Aref Al-Awani, another senior Emirates sports official, apologized to Israeli Judo Association head Moshe Ponte, according to a statement from the International Judo Federation.

In April 2016, an Egyptian judoka refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent at the Rio Olympics.

Egyptian Judoka Islam El Shehaby lost to Sasson at the 2016 Olympics. When Sasson extended his hand after his victory, El Shehaby backed away and shook his head, injecting Middle Eastern politics into the Rio Olympics. The referee called the 34-year-old El Shehaby back to the mat and ordered him to bow; he gave a quick nod and was loudly booed as he exited.

Judo opponents typically bow or shake hands at the beginning and end of a match as a sign of respect.

The International Olympic Committee, which set up a disciplinary commission to investigate the incident, said the Egyptian’s conduct “was contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic values” and sent him home.

By: JNS.org and United with Israel Staff

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