The Israeli swim team has expressed disappointment after an Iranian competitor withdrew from a heat against one of its athletes at the world championships.
Mohammed Alirezaei of Iran
did not start a heat that also featured Gal Nevo of Israel
in the 100-meter breaststroke Sunday.
"Unfortunately, this is what usually happens – it's crazy," Yitzhak Kramer, the head of the Israeli delegation, told The Associated Press on Monday. "This competition is about sport, not politics, and you need to separate the two. That's what is supposed to be nice about sport."
Gal Nevo told Yedioth Ahronoth on Monday, "The Iranian regularly puts the world championships to shame, and it's time for the international body to handle it properly. We were taught to swim, not to engage in politics.
"I'm unaware of the extent of (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad's
involvement in this, but the Iranian delegation is definitely involved. I don't think, like others do, that these are poor swimmers who train all year and are forced to give up the competition because of politics. Did someone put a gun to his head?
"I'm not just satisfied with my final result (1:02:32 minutes), but also with the fact that I beat Arabs. I won the Syrian who competed against me in the same heat and scored better than a Lebanese swimming in a different heat.
"We may have been taught not to mix sports and politics, but every Israeli knows you must defeat Arabs."
Israelis not seeking punishment. Gal Nevo (Archive photo: AP)
The Iranian team was unavailable for immediate comment, and swimming governing body FINA was not aware of what happened.
"We have to understand the situation first," said FINA executive director Cornel Marculescu. "If this is the case there's no point in coming to the world championships. We don't need these politics in our sport."
The Israelis were not seeking any punishment.
"We don't ask. If someone wants to behave like a child we don't care," Kramer said.
Alirezaei also pulled out of an event against another Israeli, Tom Beeri, in this event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, however the International Olympic Committee accepted the explanation that he was ill.
Israel coach Chanan Sterling said he was told that Alirezaei was sick again.
A similar case occurred at the 2004 Athens Olympics when an Iranian judo athlete did not compete against an Israeli opponent, and Iranian government officials were quoted in state media as congratulating him for doing so.
Iran does not recognize Israel and bans any contact with the Jewish state.
For the record, Nevo finished 45th and did not qualify for the semifinals, while Alirezaei was the only athlete in the 83-man field who did not start.
Nevo's controversial statement infuriated Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al). "Nevo's remarks prove that Israel is being washed by a wave of racism, which has infiltrated sports too," Tibi said Monday.
"It seems that he is in the right field. I see no other field apart from jumping to the water in a swimsuit and racing to the other side in which he can win, not Jews and not Arabs – particularly not in fields requiring something beyond muscles and fast leg movements," the MK added.
Gidi Lipkin contributed to this report