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An Iranian Wrestler Throws His Match to Avoid an Israeli

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The Iranian wrestler was cruising through the match, looking like a sure bet to defeat his Russian opponent. But suddenly, as if suffering an injury, he fell to the mat and was thrown around the ring like a rag doll by the surprised Russian. Finally, the match ended and the referee pronounced the Russian the winner, reported The New York Times (US).

But the Iranian wrestler was not injured. As Iranian news outlets reported, he said his real problem was that his coach had told him to throw the match to avoid facing an Israeli opponent in the next round of the tournament.

In Iran’s hard-line ideology, Israel is not recognized as a state, and supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei often refers to the country as “a cancerous tumor.” Iranian athletes are forbidden to compete with Israelis in any sport, and, if necessary, are told to forfeit their matches or to feign sickness.

The wrestler, Alireza Karimi-Machiani, 23, can be seen in blue in the video below, taking on Alikhan Zhabrailov, a Russian, at the U23 World Senior Wrestling Championship in Poland.

Mr. Karimi-Machiani is easily defeating his opponent but after a couple of minutes his coach shouts, “Alireza, lose.” The Iranian wrestler shakes his head and continues, until his coach once again shouts at him. At that point, he throws in the towel, metaphorically speaking, and not for the first time — he did the same thing in 2013.

“I was told that the Israeli wrestler defeated his American rival, and that I must lose to avoid facing an Israeli opponent,” Mr. Karimi-Machiani said in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency. “I have trained hard for months to win a gold medal, and it was easy for me to win.”

“I do accept that Israel is an oppressor and commits crimes,” the wrestler said. “But would it not be oppression if our authorities undermine my hard work again?”

The day after the match, he posted a video on Instagram of him walking along rainy streets in Poland, listening to a depressing song that starts with the sentence, “Silence is the last stronghold; you cannot take away our right.”

“I don’t know what to say to calm you,” an Instagram user, Saeed Parvazi, wrote in the comments. “Politics is separated from sports, damn those who break the hearts of our athletes and people with such policies.”

The video stirred up a storm, so Iran’s Wrestling Federation published a statement praising Mr. Karimi-Machiani’s decision to lose. The statement called him a “hero” who “sacrificed his rights to support the oppressed people of Palestine “for the second time.”

On Twitter, an Iranian Shiite Muslim cleric, Javad Jalali, defended the decision, saying that, “we will not step onto the mat against Israel until the army of Islam triumphantly steps onto the Holy Land of Palestine.”

In August, two Iranian soccer players, stars of the national team then on the roster of a Greek club, Panionios, were suspended for playing a game against an Israeli club, Maccabi Tel Aviv. One of the players, Masoud Shojaei, the national team’s captain, was dishonorably discharged, and the other, Ehsan Haji Safi, was allowed to continue to play for the national team after posting an apology on Instagram.

“The dear people of our country have rightly been offended by an event that should not have happened,” he wrote.

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