Iraq’s Olympic Committee has criticized an Iraqi weightlifter for taking part in the world championships alongside a competitor from Israel, but the Iraqi weightlifting federation defended its athlete.
Iraq, like Iran and some other Middle East states, refuses to recognize Israel and forbids any sporting contact between Iraqi and Israeli athletes.
The row concerns Haider Hussein Ali and Israeli lifter Artur Mugurdumov, competing in the 102kg category of the championships in Saudi Arabia.
“The Iraqi weightlifting federation should be conscious of the political context and the positions taken by the government and by the people,” the Iraqi Olympic Committee’s president Raad Hamoudi told AFP on Friday.
Responding to the criticism, Iraq’s weightlifting federation stressed its “rejection of all normalization with the Zionist state,” but it drew a distinction between weightlifting and other sports in which athletes come into direct contact.
“The competitions in which Haider Hussein Ali is taking part include 11 weightlifters, two of whom are Iranians,” the federation’s assistant director Saleh Mohamed Kadhim noted.
“How can we withdraw from competitions where there is no direct contact?
By way of example, he asked: “When the International Olympic Committee holds its General Assembly at which Israel is represented should the president of the Iraqi Olympic Committee withdraw?”
At the world championships which run until Sunday and which serve as qualifiers for the 2024 Paris Olympics, Iraq has been represented by six athletes, with one winning a gold medal.
For many Middle East countries, participating in events with Israeli competitors causes a major headache and stirs up debate.
Last month an Iranian weightlifter was suspended by the Iranian authorities after shaking hands with an Israeli rival at a competition in Poland.
While a number of Arab countries have normalized relations with Israel in recent years, Saudi Arabia is not one of them.
Yet this month an Israeli delegation participated in a UNESCO meeting in Riyadh, the first public visit by representatives of the State of Israel to the Gulf kingdom.