Iranian withdraws from first-round match against Israeli

Miresmaeili reportedly refused to fight Vaks

Judo

Athens Olympics 2004

August 16, 2004|By Philip Hersh | Philip Hersh,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ATHENS - At Friday's opening ceremony, the secretary-general of the United Nations said in a videotaped message that the Olympics can "open a window of hope" toward better understanding among nations.

Within two days, that notion was proved to be merely utopian.

Yesterday, a two-time world champion judo athlete from Iran was disqualified after what most suspected was a ruse to avoid a first-round Olympic match with an athlete from Israel.

The official reason for Arash Miresmaeili's withdrawal was failure to make weight in the 66-kilogram class.

Miresmaeili, Iran's flag bearer at the opening ceremony, reportedly told the Iran news agency (IRNA) that he would not compete against Israeli Ehud Vaks.

"Although I have trained for months and was in good shape, I refused to fight my Israeli opponent to sympathize with the suffering of the people of Palestine, and I do not feel upset at all," Miresmaeili was quoted as having told IRNA.

Iran has refused to acknowledge Israel's existence since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The International Olympic Committee has taken no position on the matter because it has not formally been brought to the IOC's attention, according to IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies. She said it would be up to the International Judo Federation to make an issue of it.

Judo federation spokesman Michelle Brousse said the IJF was seeking more information.

"The IJF is surprised," Brousse said. "Perhaps he [Miresmaeili] is hiding something, but we don't know. What I do know is we got an official statement [Saturday] from the president of the Iranian judo federation saying rumors [of refusal to fight an Israeli] are not true."

Vaks, who had an undistinguished career record, was eliminated from the tournament when he lost his first match, to Amar Meridja of Algeria.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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