In what was described as a stupid move and small minded and cowardly, 2-time World Judo champion and Iranian Olympic flag bearer Arash Miresmaeili withdrew from the Olympics rather than face Israeli Ehud Vaks in the first round of the men’s under-66kg category. Heavily favored to win a gold medal, Miresmaeili also forfeited the $160,000 prize money he would have received from Iranian Sports officials had he won a gold. He may receive the prize nonetheless as he is now considered a hero. “Miresmaili must receive a special prize as he was the prime candidate for a gold medal and I will do my best about it,” said head of the Judo Federation, Mohammad Derakhshan.
While this might cause despair for those pining for peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Israelis, there is one faint glimmer of hope in all of this. Witness Miresmaeili’s statement:
Although I have trained for months and was in good shape I refused to fight my Israeli opponent to sympathise with the suffering of the people of Palestine and I do not feel upset at all.
He said “my Israeli opponent” and not something typically retarded like “the enemy from the Zionist, racist and colonialist entity.” I mean “my Israeli opponent” – there’s a certain warmth to that, no? It’s as if what he’s really saying is “Dude. We are forbidden to have any sort of contact with Israeli citizens, so like, I had no choice. If I would have fought you I’d have mullahs all up my butt. Sorry about how this played out, but in my heart, you will always be my very special Israeli opponent.”
UPDATE: Reuters reports that Miresmaeili failed to make his under 66 kg weight limit on Sunday. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that at Sunday’s briefing following the weigh-in, international federation spokesman Michel Brousse disclosed it had received a statement from the president of the Iranian judo federation saying “that the rumors were not true” concerning Miresmaeili’s refusal to compete. How odd was that? Didn’t matter either way, Miresmaeili, who hasn’t participated in any major international tournaments this season, was too fat to qualify anyway.
Israeli team spokesman Yaron Michaeli said on Saturday: “We have come to Athens to participate in sport and not in politics. The nationality of Israel’s opponents is unimportant and they will face anybody.”