Iranian Forfeit

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The New York Sun

Iran’s wheelchair basketball team forfeited a game against America over the weekend at the Paralympics in Beijing. Press reports say Iran denied the withdrawal was political, but it seems clear to just about everyone that Iran was trying to avoid the potential of a match against Israel; according to the schedule, the winner of the U.S.-Iran game would have gone on to face the winner of the Canada-Israel game.

It’s only the latest episode in which Iranian athletes have tried to avoid Israelis. Our Joshua Gerstein reported from Beijing last month on the case of an Iranian Olympic swimmer, Mohammad Alirezaei, who dropped out of a 100-meter breaststroke race when he learned it would include Tom Be’eri of Israel. Mr. Alirezaei claimed he was ill, a claim that the International Olympic Committee took at face value when it declined to punish Mr. Alirezaei for his failure to compete.

In 2004, at the Athens Olympics, an Iranian competitor in Judo, Arash Miresmaeili, failed to meet the weight requirement before a match with an Israeli wrestler; at the time, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, reportedly praised the act and said it would be recorded as one of Iran’s national glories.

We wrote an editorial about it at the time, “Iranian Judo” (August 16, 2004), in which we quoted a dispatch of Reuters that carried the following statement of the Iranian National Olympic Committee: “This is a general policy of our country to refrain from competing against athletes of the Zionist regime and Arash Miresmaeili has observed this policy.”

The “guiding principles” of the Paralympics list under “fair play” an insistence that “prejudice and discrimination are not tolerated.” The Olympic Charter likewise states: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play …”

The Charter continues: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.” So it certainly looks to us as if the Jewish state and its athletes are being singled out for discriminatory treatment by the Iranians.

Poor treatment of Israeli athletes is one of the least of the Iranian government’s sins. If Mr. Ahmadinejad succeeds in building a nuclear bomb and using it on Israel, the athletes and the non-athletes will be equally dead. But as the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quakers, the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace, and the American Friends Service Committee prepare to host an Iftar dinner for Mr. Ahmadinejad in New York on September 25, they will want to know that the person they are dining with won’t allow his country’s athletes to share a swimming pool or a basketball court with a competitor from a Jewish country.

The New York Sun

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