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13 May 2019

Iran set to allow its judo athletes to take on Israelis

Iran’s National Olympic Committee and the country's judo federation have agreed to lift their long-running ban on Iranian judokas competing against Israeli competitors.

In a letter sent to the International Judo Federation and published on Saturday, the national Olympic committee, promised to "fully respect the Olympic Charter and its non-discrimination principle.”

Iran's ban on its judo athletes taking on Israeli counterparts dates back decades. 

The IJF said that the letter came after several rounds of talks relating to what it believes is the practice of Iranian athletes to deliberately avoid taking on athletes from certain countries, notably Israel, in international competitions. On several occasions, including at the Judo Paris Grand Slam in February, Iranian judokas have lost matches by what many believe is feigning injury, or simply declared themselves unavailable, in order to avoid facing Israeli rivals.

Reports in Israel have claimed that Iran has made concessions after the IJF threatened to ban the country from international competitions such as the Olympic Games if such practices did not end.

In the letter, Iranian sports officials said they were trying to negotiate with Iran's parliament to identify “proper legal resolutions”, presumably referring to the country's unofficial ban of local athletes competing against Israelis.

In recent years, several Iranian athletes have spoken out against their own sporting federations’ policy of not allowing them to compete against Israelis. On occasions, not competing against Israelis has resulted in Iranian athletes automatically losing matches, or being disqualified from tournaments.

At an international level, the last team contest between Iran and Israel was a wrestling match in 1983.

Iran is not the only country in the Middle East and North Africa to have been sanctioned for its stance on Israel. The United Arab Emirates and Tunisia both had international competitions in 2018 taken away from them because they refused to allow Israeli athletes to represent their country at the events.