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Iranian's Stand in Question

Judo federation looking into athlete's quitting. Iran federation denies political motive.

August 16, 2004|Philip Hersh | Chicago Tribune

ATHENS — At Friday's opening ceremony, the secretary general of the United Nations said in a videotaped message that the Olympics could "open a window of hope" toward better understanding among nations.

Sunday, a two-time world champion judo athlete from Iran was disqualified after what most suspected was a ruse to avoid a first-round Olympic match against an Israeli athlete.

The official reason for Arash Miresmaeili's withdrawal was failure to make weight in the 66-kilogram class. Miresmaeili, Iran's flag bearer at the opening ceremony, reportedly told the Iran news agency (IRNA), however, that he would not compete against Israeli Ehud Vaks.

"Although I have trained for months and was in good shape, I refused to fight my Israeli opponent to sympathize with the suffering of the people of Palestine, and I do not feel upset at all," Miresmaeili was quoted as having told IRNA.

The International Olympic Committee has taken no position on the matter because it has not formally been brought to IOC attention, according to IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies. She said it would be up to the international judo federation to make an issue of it.

Judo federation spokesman Michelle Brousse said the IJF was seeking more information.

"The IJF is surprised," Brousse said. "Perhaps [Miresmaeili] is hiding something, but we don't know."

Brousse added that IJF got an official statement Saturday from the president of the Iranian judo federation saying that the "rumors" of the refusal to compete against an Israeli were not true. Vaks, who had an undistinguished record, was eliminated from the tournament when he lost his first match, to Amar Meridja of Algeria.

"I feel horrible for him," Vaks said of Miresmaeili. "I know the way it feels to lose, and I imagine this is even worse for him. It's not the way I would want to win.

"I don't think they have the right not to acknowledge us," Vaks said of the Iranian athletes. "Israel is a democracy, and Iran isn't. [But] sport is linked to politics and always has been."

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