Sun, Sept 19, 2010 | The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
Discussions in Iran on Policy of Boycotting Israeli Athletes
The sports sections of Iran’s news websites have devoted considerable attention this week to a report saying that Iran’s vice president and head of Physical Education Organization Ali Saeedlou has recently sent Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei a letter asking for his instructions on the participation of Iranian athletes in competitions against Israeli sportsmen.
The affair began when Iranian wrestler Taleb Ne’matpour was forced to withdraw from the World Wrestling Championship in Moscow last week when he was drawn against an Israeli opponent. In an interview given by Mohammad Reza Yazdani-Khorram, head of the Iranian Wrestling Federation, following Ne’matpour’s withdrawal, he said that Iran had lost a definite chance to win a medal and reach the second or third place at the world championship. He added that over the past thirty years, Iran had paid a heavy price to protect the rights of the Palestinian people, and even noted that the issue deserves considerable thought. According to Yazdani-Khorram, Saeedlou sent the Supreme Leader a letter about the issue (ILNA, September 7).
Following Yazdani-Khorram’s remarks, several top sports personalities criticized Saeedlou for sending the letter, saying that it undermined Iran’s principle of boycotting Israeli athletes. Mohammad Ali Abadi, chairman of Iran’s National Olympic Committee, said in an interview to ISNA News Agency that he was not aware of the letter sent by Saeedlou and expressed reservations about it. According to Abadi, Iranian sports organizations must follow the regime’s policy towards the “Zionist regime” and boycott all competitions in which Israeli athletes take part.
Behzad Katira’i, formerly a senior Physical Education Organization official, also stated that he was adamantly opposed to Saeedlou’s letter. He noted that it has always been the organization’s view that ideological principles come first, and any matters pertaining to championships and medals come second. Iran’s is an Islamic regime based on principles and beliefs for which Iran paid dearly, Abadi said. Opposition to Israel has always been one of the principles of the revolution, and that principle must be followed. He claimed that the sports community must condemn Saeedlou for sending the letter, and that Iranian athletes must express their hostility towards Israel wherever possible.
On the other hand, Bahram Efsharzadeh, secretary of the National Olympic Committee, said that the letter was of critical importance. He noted that while Iran’s non-recognition of Israel is one of the regime’s chief principles, a solution must be found to the problem facing Iran on the international sports scene as a result of its refusal to compete against athletes from Israel (ISNA, September 13).
As a result of the outrage sparked by the report on Saeedlou’s letter, the Physical Education Organization released a statement denying that any such letter was sent (Fars, September 13). In addition, in an interview granted to ISNA, Iranian Wrestling Federation head Yazdani-Khorram stressed that he did not object to boycotting Israeli athletes and that he had always supported the struggle of the Palestinian people and expressed his strong opposition to Israel (ISNA, September 13).