Iranian judoka shames Olympics with actions
Posted: Monday August 16, 2004 3:56PM; Updated: Tuesday August 17, 2004 5:17PM
Arash Miresmaeili, a two-time world champion in judo, carried the Iranian flag into the Olympic Stadium last Friday in a moment he described as the proudest of his life. Within 36 hours, he suffered the most shameful moment -- even if he and Iran don't necessarily see it quite that way.
Miresmaeili, who was scheduled to fight an overmatched Israeli named Ehud Vaks, told INRA, his nation's official news agency, that he refused to face an Israeli because of his sympathy with the oppressed people of Palestine. His stated political beliefs might not have covered him in glory, but he did cover himself with a few extra pounds -- causing him to fail the weigh-in. (Reportedly he was lugging an extra two kilograms, almost 4 1/2 pounds. At the Olympics any veteran judoka who arrives two kilograms over the limit should have his head -- and not his stomach -- examined.)
If Miresmaeili truly had the courage of his convictions, he would have stopped hiding behind his weight and simply told officials he did not want to sully himself on the mat against an Israeli. Period. Or his National Olympic Committee should have sent someone to the judo hall and done it for him. As Reuters reported, an Iranian NOC spokesman said Miresmaeili was instructed not to fight because of government policy of not competing "against athletes of the Zionist regime."
If Miresmaeili intentionally ballooned to miss his weight -- and there is no other explanation that makes sense -- the International Judo Federation, which continued to deliberate the case in an emergency session Monday, should suspend him from competition. Then the International Olympic Committee should bar him from future Olympics for blatantly violating the athlete's oath.
Last Friday night the 10,500 athletes amassed in the Olympic stadium tacitly agreed to these words: "I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games ...in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams."
See you, pal. Don't let a Doric column hit you on the head on your way out.
But if the Iranian NOC was the driving force behind Miresmaeilias seems likely and as Vaks himself fervently thinks -- then the IOC has a bigger problem. Maybe it should start by finding out if the judoka is being compensated by Iran, rewarded for blowing off his competition with the same bonus he would have been in line to receive had he won the gold medal. Follow the money, in other words. Iran's president already has said the judoka would be compensated for his stance.
And then just to clarity this business once and for all, the IOC should verify the spokesman's statements about Iran's sports policy regarding Israel. If Iran won't face Israel, banning one judoka is not enough. The position of an NOC, on behalf of its government, should make Iran a pariah in the Olympic family. The rules of sport were mocked, the spirit of the Olympic movement trashed. The Miresmaeili/Iran case was worse than any doping violation.
As venal as doping might be, it is (with the notable exception of the former East Germany and a few others) committed by individuals and coaches. There is no official imprimatur. Miresmaeili's move appears to have been a state-sanctioned act that undermines why athletes gather for these quadrennial symposiums of sweat.
As International Judo Federation spokesman Michel Brousse put it, "At the Olympics you have to share the values of the Olympic spirit." There are a record 202 National Olympic Committees represented in Athens. If Iran wants to play by its own rules, the IOC would be better off with 201.