Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi-Machiani appears to have tanked a wrestling match at a tournament in Poland in order to avoid facing an Israeli opponent in the next round.
At the U23 World Championship in Poland last Saturday, Karimi-Machiani was well ahead of his opponent, Russia’s Alikhan Zabrailov, in the fourth minute. In a video clip of the match, a man’s voice—believed to be Karimi-Machiani’s trainer—can be heard saying “lose Alireza” as the Iranian competitor was winning. The trainer then stopped the match to speak privately to the wrestler, who went on to lose the match. Karimi-Machiani would have faced Israel’s Uri Kalashnikov in the next round.
Afterwards, the Iranian government was quick to praise Karimi-Mashiani.
“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,” said a statement on the website of Iran’s Ministry of Sport and Youth, AFP reported.
Yet some Iranian social media users, using the hashtag #youmustlose, condemned Karimi for his actions.
“You were wrong, Karimi. You accepted defeat without imposing any cost against the main reasons behind your defeat. You just became their pawn,” the Twitter user @gh_shahraki commented.
For years, Israeli athletes have faced boycotts, snubs and logistical hurdles in sporting events involving Arab and Muslim countries.
In October, the Israeli judo team was forced to compete without national symbols and its national anthem at a tournament in the United Arab Emirates.
Meanwhile, at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was booed by spectators for refusing to shake the hand of Israeli judoka Or Sasson after losing to Sasson in the first round of the men’s over-100 kilograms competition.