Iran Celebrates 'Hero' Wrestler Who Forfeited Match to Avoid Israeli in Next Round

Karimi-Mashiani’s bout was in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz on Saturday, in the 86-kilo category of the Under-23 World Championships, when he apparently intentionally lost to avoid facing an Israeli challenger. Screengrab / YouTube

Sportsmanship is a word often used when Israeli sportsmen and their Arab and Persian counterparts are poised to face off, but for all the wrong reasons.

Egyptian judokas have refused to shake hands with Israeli rivals, the United Arab Emirates has declined to play the Israeli national anthem at a judo competition, and now an Iranian wrestler has thrown a bout because winning would have resulted in a face-off with an Israeli.

The Iranian government on Monday hailed their man at the Under-23 wrestling world championships as a "hero" for his actions.

Alireza Karimi-Mashiani appeared to give up in a 86-kilogram category match that he was winning 3-2 against Russia's Alikhan Zhabrailov in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz.

According to The Times of Israel, the coach of Karimi-Mashiani can be heard telling him from the sidelines to "lose" to the Russian so he would not progress and face Israel's Uri Kalashnikov.

"You must lose, Alireza!" he shouted.

The Iranian regime praised him for a "noble and heroic action" that was "a source of pride and praise." The country's wrestling authority referred to him as a "hero" and lauded his "sacrifice."

The federation said that he had "stood against the oppression of the Palestinian people," in reference to the decades-long conflict in which Israel maintains a military occupation over the West Bank and East Jerusalem, establishing a settlement enterprise that the majority of the international community deems illegal. Israel says the Palestinians are no partner for peace after years of deadly attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi about to beat Russian, but will have to face Israeli next round. His coach his calling him from the sidelines, telling him to “lose.” Iran forbids its athletes to play Israeli’s. Iranian wrestler gives up.

— Thomas Erdbrink (@ThomasErdbrink) November 27, 2017

The freestyle Iranian wrestler was due to face Israel's Uri Kalashnikov in the next round of the competition. But Iran does not recognize Israel as a country and forbids its athletes from performing against Israeli athletes for fear of giving the country legitimacy.

Karimi-Mashiani shared the lyrics of a song by singer Darioush Eqbali on Instagram following the defeat, which include the lines: "The last bunker is silence, our right cannot be taken away, even if you take away its sky, this bird won't die."

His opponent, Zabrailov, went on to win the category, while Kalashnikov finished third overall.

At the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last year, A Saudi judo competitor pulled out of her first-round match ahead of a prospective second-round bout tie with an Israeli rival.

The Lebanese delegation at the Games also refused to permit Israeli competitors on board their bus. Tensions between the two countries are rising, with the Lebanon-based Shiite militant group Hezbollah emboldened because of its involvement in the Syrian war on the side of the Syrian government, backed by Iran and Russia.

Elsewhere at the competition, an Egyptian judo competitor refused to shake the hand of an Israeli rival after losing a 100-kilogram contest.

Israel's Or Sasson defeated Islam el-Shahabi despite receiving a penalty, finishing his opponent with a wazari and ultimately an ippon.

Sasson offered el-Shahabi a handshake at the conclusion of the bout and when he declined, the crowd subsequently booed the lack of sportsmanship. Despite a peace deal between the two countries signed in 1979, Egyptian public opinion is fiercely anti-Israel.