Iranian world judo champion Arash Miresmaili, who carried his country's flag in today's Olympic Games opening ceremony, has pulled out of the
tournament after refusing to fight an Israeli.
The 23-year-old, twice a winner of the flyweight (under 66kg) world title, opted not to take on first round opponent Ehud Vaks, of Israel, as a
gesture of support for Palestine.
"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," Miresmaili told the IRNA news agency.
Student news agency ISNA quoted Iran's sports officials as saying Miresmaili still deserved the cash prize Iranian Olympic medal winners have been
promised by the Physical Education organisation.
"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.
It is not the first time Iranian judokas have declined to fight against Israeli opponents.
At the 2001 world championships, Mahed Malekmohammdi refused to face Yoel Razvozov, while Asian champion Masoud Haji Akhoundzade also pulled out of a
planned clash with Israeli lightweight Zvi Shafran.
At the 2003 world table tennis championships in Paris, Israel lodged an official protest after Yemeni and Saudi players refused to play against one of
its team members.
Yemeni player Hani Al-Hammadi had been due to face Israel's Gay Elensky, but turned and left when he saw his opponent was Israeli.
One day later, Elensky was due to meet Saudi player Nabeel Al-Magahwi - but the Saudi player refused to come to the table.
Al-Magahwi was banned for a year for his action and became a national hero in his homeland.
"What I did in Paris was the right thing and I feel proud of it," he said.
Anti-Israel sentiment, however, worked against Libya's plans to stage the 2010 World Cup when, as part of its bid submission to FIFA, the north
African nation said that every nation was welcome except Israel.