Iran May Stop Banning Athletes from Facing Israeli Opponents


May 14, 2019 – In a May 9 letter to the International Judo Federation (IJF), the National Olympic Committee of the Islamic Republic of Iran (NOC) has stated its commitment to Principle Six Campaign of Olympic Movement which prohibits “any form of discrimination regarding a country or a person on the grounds of race, religion, politics, and gender.”

Iranian and Uzbek athletes at the 2018 Jakarta Competition. Source: Kayhan London

The letter, written in English and addressed to Dr. Marius Vizer, the president of the International Judo Federation (IJF), suggests that Iran will no longer prevent members of its national judo team and other athletes from facing their Israeli opponents in international competitions.

It said: “We would like to confirm that the I.R. IRAN NOC shall fully respect the Olympic Charter and its non-discrimination principles, and the I.R. Iran Judo Federation shall fully comply with the Olympic Charter and IJF Statutes. In the meantime, in collaboration with the I.R. Iran Ministry of Sport and Youth, we are sparing no efforts in negotiations with the [Iranian] Parliament [the Majlis] so we could identify proper legal resolutions.”

The NOC President Seyyed Reza Salehi Amiri and the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran Judo Federation Arash Miresmaeili were the signatories to the letter, a copy of which was also sent to Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement, the IJF said: “Following several exchanges and discussions with the Iranian Sports Ministry, the Olympic Committee and Judo Federation, the IJF is pleased to announce that it received a favorable response and commitment from the Iranian side.”

-امیری
Seyyed Reza Salehi Amiri's signature on the website. Source: Kayhan London

“In a historic move, Iranian judo officials have agreed to stop boycotting Israeli athletes on the mat, ending a practice that had drawn criticism against Tehran in the sporting world.,” the English-language Times of Israel newspaper wrote. “Neither Iran nor the IJF specifically mentioned Israel, but Iranian athletes have on many occasions forfeited matches to avoid facing Israelis.”

Arash Miresmaeili, the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran Judo Federation, is a former double world featherweight champion. He won the Gold medals in the 2001 and 2003 World Judo Championships in Munich, Germany and Osaka, Japan, respectively.

Miresmaeili was disqualified from competing in the 2004 Summer Olympics for weighing two kilograms more than the 66-kilogram limit. He had allegedly gained the weight deliberately to avoid facing his Israeli opponent Ehud Vakas in the first round. He denied the allegations, however, saying that “he had not avoided his Israeli opponent deliberately.”

The Iranian government has not commented on the NOC’s letter to the JIF so far.


[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]