Palestinians, Iranians Battle Israel in the Sports World… By Not Playing

Palestinian teen shows nationalistic pride, by refusing to play sports against Israelis? Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

Israel’s enemies often sound and act very open to confrontation, but in the world of sports they aren’t even competing or are told not to do so. In August alone, two Iranians were banned for life from the national soccer team for just playing against an Israeli team while a teenage Palestinian kickboxer refused to spar against an Israeli. According to The Jerusalem Post, the Palestinian withdrawal allowed the Israeli to advance to eventually win a bronze medal in the IFMA Youth muaythai World Championships.

The Palestinian Ma’an News Agency quoted Palestinian Association of Kickboxing and Muaythai Muhammad Ahmad Zeidani as saying the Palestinian teen refused to compete with the Israeli because the Palestinians haven’t made an official decision “over whether to face Israeli athletes in any sporting event.” Israeli Prime Minister’s Office Spokesman Ofir Gendelman slammed the Palestinian withdrawal on Twitter. He tweeted that the Palestinian Authority “abuses sports&incites against peace: A Palestinian kickboxer refused to fight his opponent b/c he was Israeli.” Meanwhile, the Iranian penalty for playing against Israelis drew criticism even inside Iran.

The Los Angeles Times reported that debate occurred on social media in Iran after Iran’s deputy sports minister, Mohammad Reza Davarzani, was quoted by state television as saying Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi would “never be invited” to be a part of the Iranian national soccer team because they played in a match against the Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv. Iran does not formally recognize the State of Israel.

Making it even more complicated, the L.A. Times reported the Iranian players were playing the Israelis in Greece as part of their contracts with a Greek soccer club, a point that the soccer fans noted in their support of the Iranians.

This came one month after the two Iranian players chose not to play against the Maccabi in a match held in Israel.

While the Iranian government was not pleased with the Iranians’ decision to compete against Israelis, the Jewish State was proud of them. The L.A. Times quoted the Farsi-language Twitter account maintained by the Israeli foreign ministry as telling Shojaei and Safi “well done” for breaking the “taboo of not playing in matches against Israeli athletes.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, August 13, 2017)

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