An Iranian judoka, Nejad Amir, refused to compete with his Israeli opponent, Assaf Chen, in a match in Georgia on Sunday, giving the blue-and-white team its second medal of the day and its third in the international event.
Meanwhile, Chen’s teammate Ori Sasson won the country’s first gold at the world cup tournament, and was awarded the medal at a ceremony that was boycotted by another Iranian who had won the bronze.
Chen, who competes in the under-100 kilogram weight category, beat rivals from Russia, Poland, Latvia and Armenia en route to the fight against Amir. However, when the Iranian chose not to match up against Chen, he forfeiting the bout.
It wasn’t the first time Iranian or Arab athletes refused to compete against Israelis in sporting events. During the London 2012 Olympic Games Lebanon’s judo team refused to practice in sight of the blue-and-white delegation.
“It’s a shame that the Iranians are concerning themselves with politics instead of sports,” Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Ponti said. “We’re always prepared to compete against any opponent, anywhere.”
The Iranian athletes didn’t take the mat for two reasons, he explained: “The government was, as usual, boycotting Israel, and [the athletes] are afraid to lose and be embarrassed.”
Ponti said he was scheduled to meet with International Judo Federation head Marius Vizer at the grand slam tournament in Paris over the weekend, in an attempt to solve the problem of Iranians not competing with Israelis.
It was a great tournament, head coach Oren Smadja told Maariv, citing the three medals won by the judokas as proof that there was “quality and depth” on the Israeli men’s judo team. “I’m pleased with the dedication, the persistence and the hard work,” he said.