Iranian judoka boycotts his Israeli counterpart: Olympic Dreams and Nightmares
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Author: Ted Lapkin

Iranian judoka boycotts his Israeli counterpart:
Olympic Dreams and Nightmares

Iranian judoka Arash Mirashmaeli boycotts his Israeli counterpart, using the "death by chocolate" excuse, but Israel has the last laugh, winning a bronze medal, and later, taking gold in the mistral windsurfing competition.

One of the most colourful figures in the history of American gridiron was Vince Lombardi, the 1960s-era coach of the Green Bay Packers. And, one of Lombardi’s most famous sayings is "winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing."

But, as widely known as this ‘Lombardi-ism’ has become, it apparently hasn’t registered in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In fact, the prevailing sentiment in Teheran seems to hold that winning isn’t anything at all, so long as defeat obviates the necessity of sullying one’s self by coming into contact with a Jew.

At the Athens Olympics, an Iranian judo champion Arash Mirashmaeli bent over backwards to avoid having to compete against an Israeli judoka. Or, to be more precise, he bent over his dinner plate, bingeing on food to the point where he was automatically disqualified for exceeding the limit of his 66kg weight class. But, the official Iranian government news service conveyed a more accurate picture of Mirashmaeli’s motivation. "I refuse to fight my Israeli opponent to sympathize with the suffering of the people of Palestine, and I do not feel upset at all," declared the judo champion of Iran.

It is not surprising that the Islamic government in Iran proclaimed Mirashmaeli to be a hero. President Mohammad Khatami sang the ‘famished’ judoka’s praises, and some reports indicated that the overweight Olympian would receive the same cash award as a gold medallist.

But, this Iranian decision to default in the Olympic judo competition was nothing new. Since 1948 Muslim nations have chosen forfeiture rather than competition whenever the luck of the draw has confronted them with an Israeli sporting opponent. In 1962, Indonesia opted to cancel the Asian Games they were hosting, rather than to allow Israel to compete. At the 2003 Special Olympics in Ireland, Algeria refused to play Israel in soccer and table tennis. And, just this year, Libya banned Israelis from participating in the World Chess Championships held in Tripoli.

While this informal sporting boycott is offensive, the complaisant attitude of world sporting authorities towards this problem is downright obnoxious. In a classic display of cowardice, Olympic officials in Athens accepted Mirashmaeli’s "death by chocolate" excuse, thus sidestepping the unpleasant necessity of applying punitive action. And, so the world of sports turns. Jews are subjected to discrimination on account of their Jewishness, and no one bats an eye. But, the Israeli Olympic team had the final word, returning to Jerusalem with a bronze medal won by another judoka, and then Israel’s first ever gold medal, in windsurfing. And he who laughs with medal in hand, laughs best.

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