Iranian wrestler Ali Reza Karimi had his eye on the prize at the U-23 World Championship in Poland: He was heading to certain victory against his Russian opponent.
All was good until his coach shouted from the sidelines “Ali Reza, lose.”
As The New York Times describes the scene: “The Iranian wrestler shakes his head and continues, until his coach once again shouts at him. At that point, he throws in the towel, metaphorically speaking …” According to the Times, Karimi was forced into the same dilemma in 2013.
In a video of the match, to the untrained eye it seems at first like a simple stumble for Ali Reza, as his opponent, Alikhan Zhabrailov, manages to pin him by the shoulders. But it quickly becomes obvious that the Iranian isn’t even trying as the wrestlers do a series of half-hearted barrel rolls around the circumference of the ring.
Later, Karimi told the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency that he was “told that the Israeli wrestler defeated his American rival, and that I must lose to avoid facing an Israeli opponent,” adding, “in a moment, my whole world seemed to come to an end.”
“I tried hard for months to get the world gold medal,” Karimi said. “Achieving a world medal is the only happiness for any of us.”
Iranian athletes are expected to refrain from competing against Israelis, reflecting the animosity between the two countries.
The Times of Israel writes: “Iran has had a long-time policy of avoiding Israelis in athletic competitions, frequently at the expense of its own competitors. An Iranian swimmer refused to enter the same pool as an Israeli at the Beijing Olympics and in the 2004 Athens Games, an Iranian judoka refused to face an Israeli, resulting in his disqualification.”