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Iran Denies its Athletes Will Compete Against Israelis

Iranian media disputes reports that Iranian athletes will not boycott competitions against Israelis at the London Olympics.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 7/25/2012, 6:13 AM

Iranian flag is raised at the welcome ceremony in the Athletes Village at the Olympic Park
Iranian flag is raised at the welcome ceremony in the Athletes Village at the Olympic Park
Reuters

Iranian official media disputed on Tuesday earlier reports that Iranian athletes will not boycott competitions against Israelis at the London Olympics.

The state-run Fars news agency claimed that Israeli media misquoted comments from the general secretary of Iran’s Olympic committee on the issue.

A report in Fars charged that the Israeli media “maliciously changed Bahram Afsharzadeh’s words and sought to project comments from the general secretary of Iran’s Olympic committee as they like.”

“Afsharzadeh responded to journalists in the Olympic village, saying Iran respects the spirit of sports and Iranian sportsmen would not boycott matches because of the nationality of most participants,” the report said, adding that Afsharzadeh did not name Israel.

On Monday, Afsharzadeh insisted that the country’s athletes will be "faithful to sport” and not walk out on competitions involving Israelis.

He said Iranian athletes have signed a pledge, backed by the United Nations, to leave hostilities outside of the Games.

Similar statements were made by athletes from the Islamic Republic before a swimming competition in the 2008 Beijing Games, when an Iranian swimmer dropped out of a race in which an Israeli was to compete, allegedly due to illness. He said he suddenly felt sick, possibly at the idea of having to swim in the same pool as a Jew.

In 2004, an Iranian judo athlete refused to fight an Israeli in the Olympics.

Meanwhile, Army Radio reported on Tuesday that the Iranian team departed for London without its judo champion Javad Mahjoob who would likely have faced off against Israel’s Arik Ze’evi in the games.

The Iranians claimed he is suffering from an infection which renders him unable to participate.

Zvi Varshaviak, the president of the Olympic Committee of Israel, told Army Radio on Tuesday he highly doubted Iranian athletes will indeed compete against Israelis.

“This is lip service they have to pay in order to be allowed to participate in the Olympics, but they will not compete against Israelis,” he predicted.