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March 31, 2023 12:07 pm

Lebanese Runner Withdraws From International Race to Avoid Israeli Opponent in Solidarity With Hezbollah


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Hezbollah members hold flags marking Resistance and Liberation Day, in Kfar Kila near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, May 25, 2021. Reuters/Aziz Taher

A Lebanese runner and Hezbollah supporter pulled out of a race in an international competition taking place in Poland after he discovered that an athlete from Israel would also be participating.

Mazen Chreim was set to compete in the World Athletics Masters Indoor Championships in Toruń, Poland, from March 26-April 1 in the 200 meter, 400 meter and triple jump races in the age category for athletes between 40-44 years old. However, he withdrew from the 200 meter that was scheduled for day two of the competition because the race included an Israeli runner, the Iranian-owned news network Press TV reported on Friday.

Chreim announced his decision on Facebook, saying it was made after speaking with the Lebanese Athletics Federation, and said he was taking the same position as the late Hezbollah leader Sheikh Ragheb Harb, who refused to even shake hands with Israelis and was ultimately assassinated by Israeli forces in 1984. Chreim wrote, “shaking hands with the enemies means recognizing them.”

He also told Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen television channel that he considers his withdrawal from the championship “a victory.” He added that he supports Hezbollah and does not formally recognize Israel, and thus will not participate in any sports competition with Israeli athletes, according to Press TV.

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The organizers of the championship reportedly said they were disappointed in Chreim’s decision, insisting that political views should remain separate from sports and that the tournament hopes to unite athletes from around the world.

Chreim went on to win fourth place in the 400 meter finals at the World Athletics Masters Indoor Championships, according to the Lebanese Athletics Federation. The federation has not publicly commented on the runner’s withdrawal from the 200 meter race but praised his finish in the 400 meter finals by writing on Instagram, “proud of you champ.”

Athletes from Lebanon have many times in the past pulled out of competitions where they would have to face Israeli opponents. A Lebanese MMA fighter did the same last year as well as a young Lebanese chess champion, and at the 2012 Olympics in London, the Lebanese judo team demanded to have a barrier between themselves and the Israeli judokas.

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