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[Boycott - Sports]

For one Iranian Olympian, national pride trumped medal dreams


Scott Peterson, Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
27 April 2007



Iran's double gold olympic champion,
Arash Miresmaeili, favourite for the 2004
olympics - he forfeited his gold medal
for boycotting Israel.

Pausing during a workout, Iran's judo ace Arash Miresmaeli speaks of past broken dreams, and his future ones.

"All the hopes and wishes of an athlete are for an Olympic medal," says the lithe double world champion. "Every athlete would withstand the hardest practice, to the point of death, for Olympic gold."

Mr. Miresmaeli paid one price, training hard enough to put himself in medal contention at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. But one round required competing against an athlete from Israel Ė a sworn enemy of Iran.

So the Iranian felt he had no choice but to pay another heartbreaking and controversial price: He pulled out of the games, and reset his medal dreams to Beijing in 2008.

When I am sent to another country [to compete], I am a symbol of my people and my nation. When this decision is made, it should be for a nation, not a person ... for the principles of my country.

Muslims of the world are all brothers. When one brother is oppressed, all Muslims unite to support that person. This was a good move to show the world there is an oppressed people in Palestine being killed, innocently.

Arash Miresmaeli


That decision cast a stark light on the standoff between Iran and Israel, and how it can color every aspect of potential contact. Even as it was officially lauded in Iran, the decision was decried in Israel and the West as an unsavory mixing of politics and sport.

"When I am sent to another country [to compete], I am a symbol of my people and my nation," says Miresmaeli, his cauliflower ears testament to years in the sport. "When this decision is made, it should be for a nation, not a person ... for the principles of my country."

"Muslims of the world are all brothers. When one brother is oppressed, all Muslims unite to support that person," says Miresmaeli. "This was a good move to show the world there is an oppressed people in Palestine being killed, innocently."

The judo champion returned home a hero, feted by the regime as if he had won gold. Today, a banner over the mats of the national judo team heralds Miresmaeli as an "envoy of the revolution," and shows him receiving an embrace from Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei.

It reads: "This kiss and hundreds of others we offer to you."

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0427/p01s03-wome.html?page=4


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