Israeli Olympic head doesn’t believe Iranians will face Israelis

Tehran mostly agrees, calling earlier reports that Iran would play against Israelis ‘Zionist distortions’

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Zvi Warshaviak (photo credit: Aaron Kalman/Times of Israel)
Zvi Warshaviak (photo credit: Aaron Kalman/Times of Israel)

The head of Israel’s Olympic committee said Tuesday he didn’t believe the Iranian delegation’s claim that its athletes will compete against Israelis during the Games.

Zvi Warshaviak told reporters before boarding a plane to London that athletes from certain countries would fake being sick to get out of competing against Israelis. When game time comes, he said, “someone will have an upset stomach.”

Iran indicated Tuesday it did not disagree, calling the report of a statement by the country’s delegation chief that it would play any country a “Zionist distortion.” Bahram Afsharzadeh, who is also the secretary general of the Iranian Olympic committee, had said, “We will be truthful to sport… We just follow the sportsmanship and play every country.” Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency noted Tuesday that Afsharzadeh did not mention Israel.

There’s a difference between Iran saying it would face Israeli athletes and actually doing so, Warshaviak stated. “I imagine it won’t happen.”

“A few days ago the Algerians announced they wouldn’t compete against Israelis,” Warshaviak said. “The International Olympic Committee responded that it would be better if they didn’t come, and whoever won’t compete will be sent home.”

IOC officials have in the past threatened to send home any player who refused to compete because of political reasons.

Athletes from Iran and a number of other countries have refused in the past to compete against Israeli athletes, faking sickness or forfeiting matches.

The practice is generally frowned upon by world sports bodies. It has led to Israel being forced to compete against European teams in regional tournaments instead of its geographic neighbors.

On Monday, Iranian Olympic committee head Bahram Afsharzadeh said his country would play athletes of all nationalities.

“We just follow the sportsmanship and play every country,” he said.

At the 2004 games in Athens, an Iranian judoka was ruled to be overweight and therefore disqualified from his match with an Israeli. During the 2011 World Championships in swimming, an Iranian swimmer opted out of the qualifying heat in the 100-meter breaststroke, so as not to be in the same pool with Israeli swimmer Gal Nevo.

At the London Games there is a slim chance of Iranian athletes meeting Israeli ones. Unlike previous Olympics, the two countries have no judokas in the same weight category, and none of the swimmers race in the same heat.

The field that might pitch a representative of the Jewish state against one from the Islamic republic is the 400-meter dash, and that would happen only if both sprinters compete in the same qualifying round, or if both advance to the next round.

Warshaviak thinks there might be athletes from other countries, like Algeria, who will find excuses so as not to compete against members of the blue-and-white team. “Not all the countries will agree to face Israelis,” he said. “They’ll bring a doctor’s note.”

Five of Israel’s athletes were on Warshaviak’s flight to London: Shahar Peer, Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich — Israel’s three tennis players; Misha Zilberman — the first badminton player to represent the state at the Olympics; and gymnast Valeria Maksyuta.

Everyone wants an Olympic medal, Peer told reporters, saying she’d do her best. “It won’t be an easy competition” because all the best players in the world will be there, she said. “I’ll try to represent the country well.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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