TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s government paid tribute Monday to one of the country’s wrestlers who threw an international bout when he was ahead because winning would have meant fighting an opponent from Israel.
Alireza Karimi-Mashiani was praised for his “noble and heroic action” by the government as “a source of pride and praise,” while the country’s wrestling federation called him a “hero” and extolled his “sacrifice.”
The Islamic republic does not recognize the Jewish state, placing it in the same “Great Satan” category as the United States, and forbids its sportsmen from competing against Israelis.
Karimi-Mashiani’s bout was in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz on Saturday, in the 86-kilo category of the under-23 world championships, when he apparently intentionally lost to avoid facing an Israeli challenger.
Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi about to beat Russian, but will have to face Israeli next round. His coach his calling him from the sidelines, telling him to “lose.” Iran forbids its athletes to play Israeli’s. Iranian wrestler gives up. pic.twitter.com/nX9KHaH8Jn
— Thomas Erdbrink (@ThomasErdbrink) November 27, 2017
According to footage posted online, Karimi-Mashiani looked well ahead in his bout against Russia’s Alikhan Zabrailov, but then let himself be easily beaten.
The Iranian athlete seems to abandon the fight completely and lets himself be dominated after a voice shouts out in Persian: “You must lose, Alireza!”
The hashtag #youmustlose was trending Monday in Iran, with comments both for and against his actions, some of them hostile to Iran’s authorities and others saluting his stand.
Despite forfeiting a podium place in the tournament, the wrestler received the backing of his government and the Iranian wrestling federation.
“Your noble and heroic action in the world competition in Poland, abandoning the medal and the podium in support of the highest human values, is a source of pride and praise,” an official statement on the website of the youth and sports ministry said, addressing the young wrestler.
The country’s wrestling federation in its own statement hinted that he had acted in a similar manner previously in 2013.
“It is the second time that you have risen up against the oppression of the Palestinian people by abandoning your rights in an act of absolute submission,” the federation wrote.
Quoted by the ISNA news agency, the coach of the national free wrestling team, Mohammad Talaie, called Karimi-Mashiani a “deserving young man,” and appealed for this to be recognized by the authorities.
But among the many indignant tweets was one from reformist MP Mahmud Sadeghi, who said: “It is not difficult not to face an opponent so you do not recognize the false identity of his government,” but “it is very difficult to be forced to weakness and forced to defeat a rival.”
“If he decides to go fight in the colors of another country, no one can say he sold out his homeland,” said another tweet.
Another railed: “Do the authorities not say that Israel is evil? Instead of running away, let us rise up and fight and defeat them.”
According to the results of the tournament, Russia’s Zabrailov won gold in the 86-kilo category, and Israel’s Uri Kalashnikov took the third step of the podium.