JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Iranian wrestler acknowledged that he intentionally lost at an international competition where he was favored to take the gold medal rather than face an Israeli challenger in the next round.
Alireza Karimi-Mashiani, 23, told the Iranian Students’ News Agency that when his coaches told him he would have to throw his match against Russia’s Alikhan Zabrailov, “the world came crashing down on my head.”
“All the hassles and tribulations that I had suffered for many months in training and away from my family in the hope of winning the gold medal passed in front of my eyes,” he said.
Karimi-Mashiani added that he hoped that Iranian officials would honor their pledge to reward him for his sacrifice.
The United World Wrestling championship for under-23 took place Saturday in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz.
Karimi-Mashiani said he had not withdrawn before the tournament because his coaches believed that the Israeli competitor, Uri Kalashnikov, would be defeated in the first round.
He was winning decisively in the middle of his match against the Russian when his coaches began calling on him to lose the bout, according to video footage of the match.
“Alireza lose, you need to lose,” his coaches are heard on the video calling to him. His coach then called for a break in the match to talk to Karimi-Mashiani, who would go on to lose.
Zabrailov won the gold in the 86-kilogram category. Kalashnikov took the bronze medal.
Iran does not recognize the State of Israel and forbids its athletes from competing against Israelis at international sports events.
“Your noble and heroic action in the world competition in Poland, abandoning the medal and the podium in support of the highest human values, is a source of pride and praise,” an official statement on the website of Iran’s youth and sports ministry said, AFP reported.
“It is the second time that you have risen up against the oppression of the Palestinian people by abandoning your rights in an act of absolute submission,” the statement also said, referring to his throwing of a match at the World Youth Championships in 2013 rather than compete against an Israeli.
Karimi-Mashiani told ISNA: “I could have easily become the world championship, but this prevented it. I made it easy for my Russian opponent, and this made him a finalist.”
He added: “I admit that Israel is cruel and oppressive, but if the officials of our sport can so easily ignore my work, is not it cruel? The wrestlers do not have a good financial situation, and only the pleasure for all of us is to win a global medal.”
In August, two Iranian soccer players were removed from the national team after competing against an Israeli team while playing as professionals for the Greek soccer club Panionios.