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Iranian Wrestler Throws Match To Avoid Israeli Peer, Loses Medal

Iranian freestyle wrestler, Alireza Karimi
Iranian freestyle wrestler, Alireza Karimi

Iranians on social media are enraged after wrestler Alireza Karimi appeared to deliberately lose a match against his Russian opponent to avoid facing an Israeli rival in the next round.

Karimi was leading Alikhan Zhabrilov of Russia 3-2 in the fourth minute when apparently his trainers instructed him from the sidelines to throw the match.

In a video clip depicting the 86-kilogram category of the Senior U23 World Championship match, voices can be heard clearly instructing Karimi to lose the match.

“Alireza, lose! You must lose, Alireza!” the voices urged Karimi.

Then, apparently as a precaution, Karimi’s trainer asks for time out and talks to the young wrestler in private.

Karimi returns to the mat, opens up his guard against Zhabrilov and lets the Russian win by using consecutive ankle locks, a wrestling technique Iranian athletes are renowned for easily dodging.

Had Karimi won the match, he would have faced Uri Kalashnikov of Israel in the next round.

However, the ruse was not successful, and the specter of confronting an Israeli athlete did not fade away as easily as the Iranian camp expected.

Instead, Zhabrilov beat Kalashnikov and reached the final. Karimi was then directly obliged to face his Israeli opponent for the bronze medal.

The Iranian side was left with no other option than its old trick, declaring Karimi injured and unable to compete. Iran gave the Israeli athlete a walkover match on a silver platter.

A graphic by Iranian cartoonist Shahrokh Heidari "You gotta lose the match"
A graphic by Iranian cartoonist Shahrokh Heidari "You gotta lose the match"

​With Karimi eliminated, Zhabrilov went on to win the gold medal, and Kalashnikov kissed the bronze medal that he proudly wore around his neck.

Iran does not recognize the state of Israel and, based on an unwritten law, bars its athletes from competing against participants from the country.

So far, several Israeli athletes have had easy wins by walkovers against their Iranian rivals at international sports events. As a rule, Iranian athletes lie and feign illness to avoid challenging their Israeli counterparts.

For Karimi, it was history revisited. In 2013, he was also forced to feign illness to avoid facing an Israeli opponent. Presenting the walkover match to the Israelis dropped the Iranian wrestler from second to third place.

But avoiding the match with the Israeli athlete at the Senior U23 World Championship match, hosted by Poland, was much costlier for the Iranian, who slipped from third to eighth place.

On his Instagram account, Karimi published a song by a popular Iranian singer, noting, “The last trench is silence; our rights are not to be usurped.”

Karimi’s latest Instagram post has garnered at least 17,000 comments so far. On Twitter, users created a hashtag labeled as #YouMustLose that has triggered hundreds of comments.

Most of the users believe Iran’s policy barring its athletes competing against Israeli peers has been detrimental for Iranian teams and athletes.

Currently, the great concern for the Iranian national wrestling team is the likelihood of a match between their new wrestling superstar, Hassan Yazdani, and Kalashnikov at the next championship tournament.