To swim or not to swim against Israel? That is the question. Syrian says “Yes” and Iran – again – says "no" at world championship race in Shanghai.

For the second time, Iran chose to forfeit the race, this time Mohammed Alirezaei against Israel Gal Nevo, rather than risk political contamination by swimming in the same waters touched by a “Zionist.”  

Alirezaei three years ago also refused to race against an Israeli, Tom Be’eri, in the breaststroke race in Beijing.

The Iranian swimmer said Sunday he was too sick to race, apparently struck by the same sudden ailment that forced him out of the race in 2008.

However, Syria took the diplomatic plunge, and Azad al-Barazi dived into the same pool where Nevo swam.

Responding to the Iranian boycott, Yitzchak Kramer, head of the Israeli delegation, told the Associated Press, “Unfortunately, this is what usually happens — it’s crazy. This competition is about sport, not politics, and you need to separate the two. That’s what is supposed to be nice about sport.”

International Swimming Federation FINA's executive director Cornel Marculescu told the news agency that Iran simply should not have sent its swimmer to the race, instead of making a political statement at the championship contest itself. 

Kramer added, “If someone wants to behave like a child we don’t care.”

Iran has a record of not participating in athletic contests against Israelis. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, a judo contestant from Iran refused to compete against his “Zionist” opponent, an act that won him warm compliments from the regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.