TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian wrestler said his managers told him to intentionally lose to a Russian competitor to avoid facing an Israeli wrestler in the next round.
Ali Reza Karimi told the semi-official ISNA news agency late on Monday that only one minute before the end of a Sunday round of the U-23 World Championship in Poland his coaches told him to throw the match to avoid facing an Israeli wrestler.
“In a moment, my whole world seemed to come to an end,” he said.
Israel and Iran are bitter adversaries and Iranian athletes traditionally refrain from competing against Israelis. Iran’s government usually rewards such behavior.
Karimi told ISNA that he was beating Russian Alikhan Zhabrailov when coaches told him to lose. “I tried hard for months to get the world gold medal,” he said. “Achieving a world medal is the only happiness for any of us.”
A statement from Iran’s sport ministry praised Karimi for supporting “human values.”
Iran has had a long-time policy of avoiding Israelis in athletic competitions, frequently at the expense of its own competitors. An Iranian swimmer refused to enter the same pool as an Israeli at the Beijing Olympics and in the 2004 Athens Games, an Iranian judoka refused to face an Israeli, resulting in his disqualification.
The last competition between Iranian and Israeli teams on the international level dates back to a wrestling match in 1983 in Kiev, Ukraine.
Occasionally, Iranian players who play for foreign teams have played Israeli teams. In August, Tehran criticized two Iranian soccer players who play for a Greek team for participating in a match against an Israeli team.
Iran does not recognize Israel, and supports anti-Israeli militant groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.