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Iranian Weightlifter Faces Lifetime Ban for Snapshot with Israeli Athlete

By Nigar Bayramli August 30, 2023

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Iran bans its athletes from facing Israeli opponents in international competitions, as the Islamic Republic does not recognize Israel. / Donya-e Eqtesad

The Iran Weightlifting Federation has issued a “lifetime ban” on an Iranian weightlifter for taking a photo with an Israeli athlete during the World Veterans Championship.

Mostafa Rajai has been barred from participating in all sports events “for life,” and the head of the veteran weightlifting team, Hamid Salehinia, has also been dismissed, according to a statement from the federation’s public relations department on August 30, as reported by the Tasnim News Agency.

Rajai, who secured a silver medal in a competition held in Poland from August 18 to 26, captured a photo with an Israeli athlete on the podium during the awards ceremony.

Sajjad Anoushirvani, the president of the federation, asserted that the incidents at the world veterans’ competition were unquestionably “unacceptable and unforgivable.” He emphasized that “the position of the Islamic Republic is the main priority of this federation”.

“After further investigations, decisive action will be taken against all the wrongdoers and all the activities of the veterans’ committee will be dissolved from now on,” he added.

Iran prohibits its athletes from competing against Israeli opponents in international tournaments due to the country’s non-recognition of Israel. This policy has been upheld by Iranian sports teams for many decades. Concurrently, numerous Iranian athletes have faced bans imposed by international organizations after being coerced by Iranian authorities into intentionally losing matches or simulating injuries to evade matches against Israelis.

In April 2021, the International Judo Federation suspended Iran, two years after former world champion Saeid Mollaei left the Iranian team in 2019. Mollaei claimed that he had been instructed to deliberately lose matches in world championships to avoid facing Israeli competitors. The Federation imposed a four-year suspension following a disciplinary review prompted by a ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which determined that a previous indefinite ban was not permissible.

CAS judges were stern in their assessment of Iranian officials from the national Olympic and judo bodies, as well as the government’s sports ministry. They stated that the case “clearly reveals an institutionalized scheme” aimed at preventing athletes from competing against Israelis.

Previously, United World Wrestling (UWW) suspended an Iranian freestyle wrestler, Ali Reza Karimi, who deliberately lost a match against a Russian opponent during the U23 World Championships in Poland in November 2017 to avoid confronting an Israeli wrestler. Karimi’s coach, Hamidreza Jamshidi, who was heard encouraging Karimi to lose the match, was handed a two-year ban.

The Iranian Wrestling Federation commended the wrestler’s decision in a statement, hailing him as a “hero.” The federation asserted that the wrestler had “stood against the oppression of the Palestinian people” at an international sporting event.

During the 2004 Athens Olympics, then-Iranian world champion Miresmaeili declined to compete against Israeli judoka Ehud Vaks. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly lauded athletes who have refused to compete against opponents from Israel. Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has refused to acknowledge Israel.