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September 21, 2022 11:37 am
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International Tennis Federation Receives Complaint After Iraqi Players Refuse to Compete Against Israelis

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

(Illustrative) Iraqi demonstrators burn an Israeli flag during a protest to express solidarity with the Palestinian people amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, in Baghdad, Iraq May 15, 2021. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily.

The legal advocacy group UK Lawyers for Israel has sent a complaint to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) regarding Iraqi wheelchair tennis players who recently withdrew from a competition for refusing to play against opponents from Israel.

Nasr Mahdi and Mohammad Al-Mahdi from Iraq — whose parliament earlier this year passed legislation criminalizing contact with Israel on pain of death — reportedly pulled out of the Bucharest Open Wheelchair Tennis Tournament in Romania in August immediately after being drawn against two Israeli competitors, Adam Berdichevsky and Sergei Lysov. The decision was announced by Iraqi Tennis Federation President Majid Al-Ugaili.

UKLFI said on Monday that it wrote to Alistair Wilson, head of the wheelchair tennis division at the ITF, arguing that the Iraqi competitors violated many of the federation’s wheelchair tennis regulations with their actions. The pro-Israel group urged the ITF to enforce its own rules against the Iraqi athletes along with the Iraqi Tennis Federation, which promoted their decision.

There have been multiple similar cases in the past in which competitors, from Iraq and other countries, have refused to go head-to-head against Israeli opponents in various sports.

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“This is not an isolated or spontaneous action,” UKLFI Director Sam Green said. “This is part of a sophisticated, multinational, and highly organized campaign to target international sporting events and use them as platforms for political goals. Wheelchair tennis has an opportunity to prevent political gamesmanship from becoming entrenched in its sport, to prevent the disruption that brings, and prevent the isolation and delegitimization of an important contributor to wheelchair sport.”

Wilson responded to UKLFI’s complaint by thanking the pro-Israel group for notifying the ITF about the incident.

“Our purpose is indeed to create opportunities for wheelchair athletes to play and compete at all levels of the sport,” he added. “The regulations provide the framework for our competitions and behavioral standards, which all players are expected to adhere to – while ITF endeavors to uphold those regulations and standards to help maintain the integrity of the sport.”

ITF and its wheelchair tennis division did not respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment at the time of publication.

A number of Israelis took home wins at the Bucharest Open Wheelchair Tennis Tournament. The winner of the women’s singles event was Maayan Zikri, who was also half of the winning pair in the women’s doubles; the winner of the quad event was Shraga Weinberg; and Berdichevsky and Lysov reached the semi-finals of the men’s doubles.

Update: Wilson replied to The Algemeiner on Thursday morning regarding the incident, saying, “This is a matter we have been looking into and we were subsequently made aware of further reports in the media.”

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