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September 20, 2021 1:40 pm

Khamenei Reaffirms Iran’s Antisemitic Ban on Competing Against Israeli Athletes

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in Tehran, Iran June 4, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated the country’s longstanding policy of not allowing Iranian athletes to compete against Israelis at a reception on Saturday for Iranian Olympic medalists from the 2020 Tokyo Games.

“Any Iranian athlete worthy of the name cannot shake hands with a representative of the criminal regime in order to win a medal,” Khamenei said Saturday, as reported by Agence France-Presse. He added in comments posted on his official website, “The illegitimate, bloodthirsty … Zionist regime tries to win legitimacy by taking part in international sporting events attended by the world arrogance (Washington and the West), and our athletes cannot just stand idly by.”

Khamenei also promised to support athletes who are punished by international bodies for respecting Iran’s ban against Israeli competitions. He instructed “the sports and foreign ministries, as well as the judiciary, to deploy their legal resources to support athletes from this and other Muslim countries, like the Algerian who was recently disciplined,” referring to Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine.

Nourine withdrew from the Tokyo Olympic Games in July to avoid facing a possible match against an Israeli opponent. As a result of his decision, the International Judo Federation (IJF) banned the judoka and his coach, Ammar Benkhalaf, from participating in judo activities or competitions for 10 years.

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Responding to Khamenei’s remarks, Maccabee Task Force Executive Director David Brog observed that “the worst antisemites are those who refuse to even touch a Jew.

“No rationalization can hide the ugly antisemitism behind Iran’s behavior,” he told The Algemeiner on Monday. “This is exactly why people must believe Iran’s leaders when they say they want to destroy Israel. They don’t see Israelis as full humans. As the Middle East moves closer to integration and mutual respect, Iran is doubling down on hate and segregation.”

StandWithUs said, “there should be absolutely no place for hate in sports” and called it a “travesty” that Iran continues “its disgusting policy” of forbidding Iranian athletes from competing against Israelis in sports.

Iran, which does not recognize Israel, won seven Olympic medals at the 2020 Olympic Games, three of them gold, and 24 medals at the Paralympic Olympics. 

At the 2004 Olympics, Iranian judoka Arash Miresmaeili refused to fight an Israeli and similarly, at the 2008 Beijing Games, an Iranian swimmer dropped out of a race in which an Israeli was set to compete. In 2010, an Iranian contestant withdrew from a taekwondo match against Israel’s Gili Haimovitz at the Youth Olympics in Singapore, and in 2017, two Iranian soccer players were criticized by Iran’s soccer federation after they played for a Greek soccer club against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.

In 2019, former Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei admitted that authorities in Iran pressured him to drop out of an international competition in order to avoid fighting Israeli judoka Sagi Muki in the finals. The IJF suspended Iran from judo competitions following the incident, but the ban was cancelled earlier this year by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Mollaei fled Iran following the ordeal and now represents Mongolia. Earlier this year he won a silver medal at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam in Israel followed by a silver medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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