27 July 2011
Following the refusal of an Iranian swimmer to contest a heat at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Shanghai, the president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Ronald S. Lauder, has urged all international sports federations to suspend the participation of Iranians in major championships “until the regime in Tehran ends its ban on competing with Israeli athletes.” Lauder called Iran’s repeated attempts to politicize sporting events “disgraceful” and the regime’s obligation on Iranian athletes not to compete against sportsmen from Israel “a clear breach of the spirit and the letter of the statutes of international sporting bodies.”
On Sunday, Iranian swimmer Mohammed Alirezaei refused to contest a heat in the 100-meter breaststroke race evidently because of the presence of an Israeli athlete. Alirezaei claimed he had withdrawn because he had felt “tired and drowsy” after a long “wait for his visa.” However, he had also pulled out of an event including another Israeli swimmer at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, citing illness. Last year, Mohammad Ali Abadi, chairman of Iran’s National Olympic Committee, said in an interview with the ISNA news agency that Iranian sports organizations must follow the government’s policy towards Israel and boycott all competitions in which Israeli athletes take part.
The WJC president declared: “It is high time that a strong signal is sent to Iran that unless this long-standing boycott is lifted, Iranian athletes will not be allowed to enter major international events such as next year’s Olympic Games in London. This kind of bigotry can and must be overcome, and Tehran must give clear undertakings that Iranian athletes do not shun their Israeli counterparts at sporting events.”
Lauder added: “To my knowledge, Israeli sportsmen are the only ones world-wide targeted by such a racist boycott, yet leading federations such as the International Olympic Committee and others are reluctant to take strong and unequivocal action. Iran’s behavior is unsportsmanlike and smacks of anti-Semitism. It must be stopped!”
The executive director of the swimming world body FINA, Cornel Marculescu, said they were looking into the boycott. The head of the Israeli delegation at the Shanghai championships, Yitzhak Kramer, told AP that he was used to such things spoiling sporting events. However, he said it would not dampen his team's spirit. "If someone wants to behave like a child we don't care."
Last year, an Iranian weightlifter, Hossein Khodadadi, refused to shake hands with his opponent after an Israeli won the World Masters Weightlifting Championship. Nonetheless, the head of Iran's Physical Education Committee banned Khodadadi from the team for competing against an Israeli.
We welcome any comments you may have on this article.
Comments are moderated and we reserve the right to edit or remove any which are derogatory or offensive.
The WJC is not responsible for the content of any comments.
Subscribe to our newsletter.