THE BIG PICTURE: Iran’s judo federation pledges not to discriminate against Israel … maybe

All credit to the International Judo Federation, which has consistently championed the right of all countries – notably Israel and Kosovo – to compete in its international competitions, especially those held in nations which either do not recognize their existence, or which do not have diplomatic relations.

This has especially been an issue with Iran, but the IJF has been active, stating in an announcement last Saturday (11th) that:

“After having witnessed on several occasions in recent history a disturbing phenomenon, which involves the sudden ‘injury’ or failure of weigh-in of Iranian athletes, phenomenon which is linked by many observers to the possible obligation of the given athletes to compete against certain countries, the International Judo Federation decided to step up in order to protect the right of athletes to fair competition.”

The result, after multiple discussions was a remarkable letter from the National Olympic Committee of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Co-signed by NOC chief Seyed Reza Salehi Amiri, and Arash Miresmaelli, head of the Iran Judo Federation, the final paragraph of the letter stated:

“By means of this letter, we would like to confirm that the I.R. Iran NOC shall fully respect the Olympic Charter and its non-discrimination principle, and the I.R. Iran Judo Federation shall fully comply with the Olympic Charter and the IJF Statutes. In the meantime, in collaboration with the I.R. Iran Ministry of Sport and Youth, we are sparing no efforts in negotiating with the Parliament so that we could identify the proper legal resolutions.”

And that last phrase is critical, because the Iranian government’s policy stance is that Iranian athletes should not compete against Israel, in anything. This even extended to the Special Olympics; in the 2015 World Games in Los Angeles, the Iranian delegation asked for a re-draw of a swimming race to avoid having Iranian and Israeli athletes swimming in the same heat!

Moreover, a report on the Iranian letter in the Israel newspaper Haaretz noted that “After the news of an end to the boycott were reported, however, Iranian media reacted skeptically, denying Iranian athletes would compete with Israelis. One report suggested Iran complying with the Olympic Charter and its non-discrimination principle was ‘nothing new,’ specifying Iran does indeed compete with any country but does not consider Israel a legitimate state.”

A report in Israel Hayom added that “According to Army Radio, the IJF threatened to ban Iran from international competitions, including the Olympics, if it did not agree to fight Israelis.”

So, there is still work to do, as the letter notes, by the Iranian National Olympic Committee with the Ministry of Sport and Youth in dealing with Iran’s revolutionary government on the subject.

This policy may be put to the test quickly, as the IJF World Tour includes four more Grand Prix competitions between now and the 2019 World Championships, to be held in Tokyo at the end of August. Israel is a rising power in judo, currently sitting 11th in the nations ranking, to 42nd for Iran, and both have legitimate medal prospects for the 2019 Worlds.

The IJF, under President Marius Vizer (FRA) is to be congratulated for making a real effort to end discriminatory practices that have been tolerated for far too long. But this announcement of Iranian intentions is only that; the actions to back it up must come through as well.

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