Opinion column: Leave it at the door

Illustration Illustration

Illustration Illustration

By Elie Dvorin

The 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens are coming to a close, but not before its share of scandal and controversy. Between the high-profile banning of U.S. track team members for alleged doping violations and the judging error in men’s gymnastics that cost South Korea the gold medal, there was the refusal of an Iranian judo star to compete against an Israeli.

To avoid competing against Israeli Ehud Vaks, Arash Miresmaeili – two-time world judo champion and favorite to win the 66-kg weight class in Athens – was disqualified from competition after intentionally weighing in two kilograms over the requirements for his class. His actions brought shame to the Olympic Games. Iran, which condoned and praised his refusal to compete, found yet another way to bring shame upon itself.

During the opening ceremony, where Miresmaeili carried the Iranian flag, every Olympic athlete recited the following words: In the name of all competitors, I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.

In a complete disregard for the oath he took, Miresmaeili revealed the true reason for his weight gain. “Even though I trained for months, and even though I am in good shape, I refused to compete against the Israeli opponent in order to express my sympathy with the suffering of the occupied Palestinian people and the occupied Iraqi people,” Miresmaeili said. Even so, he didn’t have the courage to fully stand up to his convictions. He could have walked up to his match and simply refused to compete against an Israeli, but he felt it necessary to hide behind an official weight disqualification that would make any coward proud.

If admitting his weight gain wasn’t enough to convince the International Olympic Committee of his intentions, a statement by the Iranian National Olympic Committee should help to clarify: “This is a general policy of our country to refrain from competing against athletes of the Zionist regime, and Arash Miresmaeili has observed this policy.”

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The International Judo Federation had a great opportunity to sanction Miresmaeili for his actions but failed to act. After an investigation, the IJF concluded Miresmaeili’s weight gain was the result of a “digestive problem.” Clearly this political investigation was conducted by individuals who blatantly ignored repeated admissions by Miresmaeili, the Iranian National Olympic Committee and a multitude of Iranian officials.

While Miresmaeili argues his refusal to compete is strictly political, it’s no secret Iran’s refusal to diplomatically recognize Israel crosses both political and racial lines. Until Iran changes its policy of exclusion, the IOC needs to ban the Iranian delegation from participating in any Olympic competition or qualifying event. A swift and strong message must be sent to Iranian President Khatami stating that his country doesn’t make the rules for the Olympic Games, and if it won’t play by the rules, it won’t play at all. Allowing certain countries to pick and choose which countries they will compete against sets a terrible precedent. The thought of a white U.S. gymnast refusing to compete against a black gymnast from an African nation rightfully seems both preposterous and morally wrong, yet there’s no difference between that theoretical situation and the one that just occurred.

Mehdi Mohtashami, Iran’s ambassador to Greece, said, “Certainly, the Iranian nation considers Miresmaeili as the real champion of the 2004 Olympic Games” and Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said “the move by the Iranian world judo champion … will be recorded in the history of Iranian glories.” Statements like these exemplify both idiocy and ignorance. Most world leaders recognize that to become an Olympic champion, one has to first compete and then win, but logic and common sense have no place in the Iranian regime.

Unfortunately, the IOC most likely will take the same path as the IJF and do nothing to sanction the country that made a mockery of the Olympic Games. Until there is some level of international outcry, Iran will continue to make its own rules as the IOC feebly stands by and watches.

Elie Dvorin is a junior in LAS. His column runs Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected]