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April 20, 2022 12:23 pm
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Iranian Olympic Gold Medalist Slams Iran’s Ban on Competitions With Israeli Athletes: ‘We Cannot Tolerate This Anymore’

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Sajjad Ganjzadeh, right, competing in 2018. Photo: Martin Rulsch, Wikimedia Commons.

An Iranian karate athlete and Olympic gold medalist has criticized his home country for barring its athletes from competing against Israeli opponents, the London-based Iran International reported.

Sajjad Ganjzadeh said on Monday in a since-deleted Instagram post that Iran’s ban on facing Israeli athletes limits Iranian competitors to only matches in Asia. Israel has been banned from the Asian Games since the early 1980s and has been refused permission to participate in other Asian competitions, such as a squash tournament that was set to take place in Malaysia last year.

The world karate champion called on Iranian authorities to consider the athletes, not only their ideologies and political issues. “We cannot tolerate this anymore. Not competing is more difficult than competing,” he added, according to the outlet.

Following the 2020 Tokyo Games, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated his country’s policy of not permitting Iranian athletes to compete against Israelis. He has insisted that athletes refuse to face Israeli opponents even if they are penalized by international bodies, promising to support those punished.

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While there is no legislation in place banning Iranian athletes from playing against Israelis, pressure from officials often results in athletes intentionally losing or forfeiting matches to avoid going head-to-head against an athlete from Israel.

Roughly 30 Iranian athletes in recent years have defected from Iran and sought asylum in other countries, according to Iran International. Those athletes include judo champion Saeid Mollaei, world kickboxing champion Omid Ahmadisafa and powerlifter Amir Assadollahzadeh.

Mollaei was forced to forfeit a match at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo to avoid competing against Israeli judoka Sagi Muki. Following the incident, the International Judo Federation banned Iran’s judo teams from competing in international competitions for four years. Mollaei now competes for Mongolia and won a silver medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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