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September 16, 2022 12:02 pm
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Iran Accused of Pulling Wrestler From International Championship to Avoid Competing Against Israeli Athlete

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Iran has been accused of purposefully ensuring that one of its wrestlers would not qualify for a match on Thursday at the Wrestling Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, in order to have him avoid fighting against an Israeli opponent.

Amir Mohammad Yazdani, 22, who is part of Iran’s national freestyle wrestling team, was set to go head-to-head with US-born wrestler Joshua Finesilver, 24, who is competing on behalf of Israel, in the 70-kilogram qualifying round at the 2022 World Wrestling Championships taking place Sept. 10-18. However, Yazdani forfeited the match and the bout never took place.

Iran’s Press TV originally reported that Yazdani pulled out of the championships “to avoid facing an Israeli counterpart,” but then issued a retraction and stated that the wrestler did not compete against Finesilver due to being overweight and not meeting the weigh-in requirements for the match.

Sardar Pashaei, the former head coach of Iran’s national Greco-Roman wrestling team, believes the real reason is because Iran wanted to avoid having one of its athletes compete against a member of the Israeli wrestling team. The former wrestling champion has been vocal in the past about Iran’s discrimination against Israeli athletes.

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“Yazdani was not allowed to compete with Israel,” Pashaei wrote on Twitter. “The Iranian security officials told him not to lose the needed weight and withdraw from the competition. The hate-mongering policy of Islamic Republic continues in the sports fields, yet the [United World Wrestling organization] is still silent.”

He added, “The method used by Iranian athletes to refuse to compete with Israel is that they either make themselves sick or they lie that they have not reached the proper weight.” Pashaei also noted that the United World Wrestling organization and the International Olympic Committee “are also aware of these issues, but they appease the Iranian government’s anti-Israel and hate-mongering policies.”

Pashaei is the manager of the United for Navid campaign, which seeks justice for the wrongfully executed Iranian champion wrestler Navid Afkari. He said he will be sending a letter to the United World Wrestling organization and the International Olympic Committee about the incident with Yazdani, asking them “why in the last 40 years, not a single Iranian athlete was allowed to compete with Israel, and every time they appeased the Islamic Republic.”

Yazdani, who won the silver medal at the 2021 World Wrestling Championships, comes from a family of wrestlers and one of his relatives, world and Olympic champion Hassan Yazdani, is set to compete in the semi-finals in Serbia on Friday.

Potkin Azarmehr, a British-Iranian activist and investigative journalist, wrote on Twitter that he also believes Iran took action to make sure Amir was not the necessary weight required to compete against Finesilver in the 70-kilogram category.

“Iranian wrestler, Amir Yazdani was due to face an Israeli opponent … If he refused Iran wrestling federation would have been banned like Judo. Instead, they overfed him so he didn’t qualify at the weigh-in. Once again Iran managed to get out of a sticky situation,” he said.

Iran has had a long-standing policy of not allowing their athletes to compete against Israelis.

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