Iranian Athletes No Longer Need Law Banning Competition With Israelis, MP Says

Mojtaba Zolnour.
Mojtaba Zolnour. Source: Kayhan London

By Hamed Mohammadi

There is no need to pass a new bill into law banning Iranian athletes from facing Israeli opponents in international competitions because they do it out of their own free will, Mojtaba Zonnour (also spelled Zolnour), the chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of the Majlis (Iranian Parliament), has said.

Mr. Zonnour made the comments in an interview with the Majlis’ news agency ICANA.

A few days earlier, the Majlis gave its approval in principle to the double-urgency Bill “Countering the Zionist Regime’s Hostile Actions.” MPs reportedly agreed to remove Article 11 of the bill, which banned Iranian athletes from competing against their Israeli opponents in international championships, arguing that other articles in the draft proposal addressed the issue.

“Initially, there were 14 articles in the bill,” Zonnour said. “We, however, removed Article 11, which prohibited Iranian athletes from competing against their Israeli opponents in international championships and added three other articles. The final draft bill comprises 16 articles.”

“Our athletes already know what to do when facing an opponent from the Zionist regime,” Zonnour noted. “Inserting an article in the bill to address this issue specifically would imply that there are some athletes who want to compete in those circumstances, and to stop them, we have to pass a separate law. Our athletes follow their humane and religious values and principles, so there is no reason for drafting a new law to address this issue.”

“Iranian people, including our athletes, have always delivered a blow to the Zionist regime. They use any opportunity to show their anger towards a regime that kills children,” Zonnour said. “The bill sets clear guidelines for several state organizations to counter hostile actions of the Zionist regime. These institutions include the Judiciary, the Ministry of Intelligence, the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology of Iran, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance.”

“A segment of the new bill stresses the need for executing the existing laws on books, which will deliver a decisive blow to the Zionist regime and its sinister plans,” Zonnour added.

In recent years, many Iranian athletes, in various fields, have refused to face their Israeli opponents in international championship tournaments, citing ill health or injuries. Several of them eventually left Iran for other countries and are competing under the flags of their adopted homes.

Arash Miresmaeili, the Gold medalist in the 2001 and 2003 World Judo Championships in Munich, Germany, and Osaka, Japan, was disqualified from competing in the 2004 Summer Olympics for being two kilograms above the 66-kilograms weight limit. He had allegedly gained the weight deliberately to avoid facing his Israeli opponent, Ehud Vakas, in the first round. He denied the allegations, saying that “he had not avoided his Israeli opponent deliberately.”

In February 2018, the United World Wrestling (UWW) banned Iranian freestyle wrestler, Alireza Karimi, for six months for intentionally throwing a match against his Russian opponent in the quarterfinal of the U-23 World Championship in Bydgoszcz, Poland, in 2017 to avoid facing Israel’s Uri Kalashnikov who ultimately won the bronze medal in the tournament. The UWW also banned Karimi’s coach, Hamidreza Jamshidi, from the sport for two years.

During the second day of the Paris Grand Slam 2019, Saeed Mollaei, Iranian Judoka in Men’s 81-kilogram division, deliberately threw a match against Kazakhstan’s Ruslan Mussayev to avoid facing his Israeli opponent Sagi Muki in the next round. Footage of the match showed Mr. Mollaei in tears as he was leaving the mat after losing to Mr. Mussayev, who was ranked 209 in the world. Mollaei left Iran in 2019 and became a Mongolian citizen shortly after.

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This article was translated and adapted from Persian by Fardine Hamidi.

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