ATHENS-TEHRAN, 16 Aug. (IPS) As Olympic judo officials say they need more evidence before any action can be taken against Iran for an apparent political boycott of a bout with an Israeli, many Iranians and sports commentators regretted that Mr. Arash Miresma’ili refused to fight his Israeli competitor over “sympathy with the Palestinian people”.
Having failed to reach a conclusion immediately after Sunday's withdrawal in Athens by Mr. Miresma’ili, expected to win a gold medal, the International Judo Federation's (IJF) executive committee was to meet again on Monday on the case of Iranian world champion.
Mr. Miresmaili was to have fought Israel's Ehud Vaks in the first round of the under-66 kg class on Sunday but was overweight at the weigh-in, but made headlines after he announced on Friday that he would refuse to fight against Vaks to express his “sympathy with the Palestinian people suffering at the hands of Israeli usurpers”, oblivion of the fact that Palestinian athletes do not refuse to challenges their Israeli competitors.
While Iranian officials, including the embattled President Mohammad Khatami and Mr. Qolamali Haddad Adel, the Speaker of the conservatives-dominated Majles, or the Iranian Parliament, as well as the hard line press praised his decision warmly, others, mostly outside Iran, both regretted and condemned the initiative, saying he had no right to deprive the Iranian people from a victory.
“I have a question. Let’s imagine the day that all this parody (of not recognising Israel) is finished, that another, nationalist regime come to power in Iran which, like any other rational government in the world, would establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel. On that day, who would respond for Mr. Miresma’ili for having lost his medal so cheaply?” Mr. Hoseyn Khonsari, a sportscommentator based in Holland pointed out.
"Your disqualification because of supporting Palestine would promote your position in the heart of Muslims", assured Mr. Qolamali Haddad Adel, the Speaker of the conservatives-controlled Majles.
Though a spokeswoman for Iran's Olympic Committee said Miresma’ili had been told to pull out in line with national policy towards Israel the forbids Iranian sportsmen to face Israeli contenders, however, Olympic officials said the reasons were unclear.
"Before speaking of sanctions we have to know exactly why he failed his weight", IJF spokesman Michel Brousse told reporters, adding the IJF is very surprised that such an elite player could not manage to make his weight".
"We have to know whether it was done on purpose or accidentally. At the moment we don't know”, he observed.
However, faced with severe sanctions, the Iranian Olympic Committee said on Sunday that the reason Mr. Miresma’ili was not able to take part at the competition was because he had refused weight-checking procedures.
This was in total contradiction with earlier Iranian position, where officials, including the powerless President Mohammad Khatami and Mr. Qolamali Haddad Adel, the conservative Speaker of the Majles, or the Iranian Parliament as well as the conservatives-controlled press congratulated Mr. Miresma’ili for his “heroic and courageous act of protest against force and occupation” and presented him as “a national hero”.
"The heroic and great action of Arash Miresma’ili who, in protest to occupation, terror and usurpation renounced to his medal at the Olympic games has gone strait in our heart and would be incrusted in the history of the glories of our nation”, said Mr. Khatami in a message on Sunday 15 August 2004 addressed to the president of the Iranian Physical Education Organisation Mr. Mehr Alizadeh, adding that Iran would consider Mr. Miresma’ili as a world champion, meaning he would be entitled to the one billion Rials (115.000 US Dollars) prize promised to any one of the small Iranian team who would get a gold medal at the games.
“I felicitate you on your sense of sportsmanship, a common spirit among Iranian champions", Mr. Haddad-Adel had stated a day before in a message to Miresma’ili, reported by the official news agency IRNA.
"Your disqualification because of supporting Palestine would promote your position in the heart of Muslims", the conservative lawmaker added.
“Miresma’ili refused his (not yet won) gold medal to prove to the world that at a time that the Olympic games continue under the slogan of Union, Peace and Equality, countrymen of the Zionist competitor also continue their crimes in order to show that there is no a country and nation named Palestine, to..”, commented the semi-independent Iranian students news agency ISNA on Sunday 15 Aug.
"Miresma’ili must receive a special prize as he was the prime candidate for a gold medal and I will do my best about it", said head of the Judo Federation, Mohammad Derakhshan, a revolutionary Guards officer.
“I’m a Muslim and a Shi’a, but each has its own religion and this must be respected. And anyhow, one forgets all these things once on the tatami. The Olymic games is a meeting point where one can meet representatives of numerous nations that come there in a spirit of friendship and sportsmanship”, he told Mr. Armin Arefi, a journalist quoted by the influential French daily “Le Monde” dated 15-16 August 2004.
Underlining how Tehran's apparently political gesture clashes with the Olympic ideal, Brousse said: "Entering the Olympics means sharing the values of the Olympic movement.
Arash Miresma’ili's refusal to compete with his Israeli counter part is another black mark for the reputation of Iranians around the world
"The International Judo Federation has similar values to the Olympic movement. We value friendship, solidarity, and tolerance.
"We value peace and we cannot tolerate discrimination.
"This is very important for the future of the IOC, for the future of judo".
Over the years there have been several cases outside the Olympics of Israelis and Iranians being drawn against each other and the Iranian then failing to turn up for various reasons.
Many leading figures in the judo world were convinced Miresma’ili had wanted to fight but was prevented in doing so: "When governmental politics starts to play a role in Olympic competition there are no winners".
Veteran Iranian sport commentator Iraj Adibzadeh of the Persian service of Radio France International regretted Mr. Mirsesma’ili’s decision.
“The Olympic games are a theatre of friendship and humanity. The International Olympic Committee has always warned against bringing politic into the games. But what the Iranians does is against this policy and if they do not want to compete against the Israelis, they should get out of the games altogether”, he told The Asia Times Online.
Not only the Islamic Republic of Iran do not recognise Israel, but it consider the Jewish State as “najes”, an Arabic word meaning unclean or untouchable and wants its destruction.
“Contrary to the Iranian authorities, there is no praising Mr. Miresma’ili for what he did. In my view, the most cherished wish for any athlete and sportsmen is to get a gold medal at the Olympic or any other international games. With his background and experience, Miresma’ili had great chances to embrace this magic moment of glory. But I think the possible gold medal was sacrificed to Iranian leaders who thinks of nothing but their own petty personal interests”, Mr. Khonsari observed in an talk with Mr. Adibzadeh.
Other Iranians were more straightforward.
“Arash Miresma’ili's refusal to compete with his Israeli counter part is another black mark for the reputation of Iranians around the world. His irresponsible and ignorant decision has made the International Olympic Committee (IOC) question whether Iran should even be in the Olympics”, wrote Pesare Gol, a pseudonym meaning nice guy in the popular website The Iranian. (www.iranian.com)
“What a great disappointment it was watching the Iranian contingent at the Olympics opening ceremonies the other night. They seemed by far the most dejected, most depressed, and the worst dressed group of athletes among the 200 nations who paraded before the eyes of the world that night”, added Shahriar Zahedi writing on the same internet site. ENDS MIRESMAILI 16804