Iranian and Jordanian Athletes Refuse to Face Israelis this Week
In the past week, an Iranian chess champion and Jordanian table tennis player both refused to take on Israeli opponents at championships held in Europe. The boycott of Israeli challengers in sports is an all-too-common practice amongst some athletes from Arab countries.
This weekend, a Jordanian player Slamah Mahfouz refused to face his Israeli opponent Omri Ben Ari at the Budapest Table Tennis World Championship. 15-year-old Iranian chess champion Alireza Firouzja also refused last week to play his Israeli opponent Or Bronstein during the Grenke Chess Classic held every year in Germany.
According to Jerusalem Post, when referees announced the start of the third round, they noticed that Fizrouja was missing from his seat unwilling to face Bronstein. Chess has been a common forum for Iranians to air their grievances. In January, Iranian chess player Aryan Gholami refused to play an Israeli challenger at the Rilton Cup in Sweden. He was later hailed as a hero and met with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who praised his decision.
There have been countless other incidents in recent times as well. At the Rio Olympic Games in 2016, an Egyptian judoka refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent after suffering a defeat. In 2018, an Iranian wrestler intentionally lost against his Russian competitor to avoid confronting an Israeli opponent Uri Kalashnikov. The world wrestling governing body banned Iranian Alireza Karimi for six months on Friday after he was found guilty of deliberately throwing this match last November to avoid facing the Israeli wrestler.
Sports are an opportunity to connect nations and people together. Sadly, when governments like Iran encourage their athletes to boycott Israeli opponents - it takes conflict to a completely new level and unnecessarily involves young athletes everywhere in global conflict. Sports should be used to inspire the next generations for peace and respect. Importing politics and hate to sports field should be banned and nations like Iran which encourage these practices should be sanctioned.
Sports, after all, have the ability to connect nations in ways politics can’t.