One of Iran’s top chess players was expelled from an international tournament in France earlier this week after refusing to play against an Israeli. Iranian Ehsan Ghaem Maghami was scheduled to play Israeli Ehud Shachar in a computer-generated match for the fourth round of the tournament. Maghami asked to change his opponent, which is a violation of tournament rules, and thus refused by the director. Maghami responded by not showing up at the scheduled time to play. Five of the 186 competitors in the tournament were Israeli.
Iranian athletes regularly try to avoid competing against Israelis, or competing but from afar. In February, Maghami took a Guinness record for simultaneous chess games from Israeli title holder Alik Gershon after Maghami faced over 600 players in a set of games that lasted more than 25 hours. Gershon had previously set the record at 523 simultaneous games.
Last month, Iranian wrestlers Mohsen Hajipour and Ghasem Rezaei refused to compete with their Israeli competitors at the World Wrestling Championships in Istanbul. In July, an Iranian swimmer refused to compete against an Israeli at the Shanghai FINA World Championships. At the 2009 Swimming World Championships in Rome, Iranian swimmer Mohammad Alirezaei’s refused to swim against Israeli Mickey Malul. And the list goes on.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, has called on world sports federations to prevent Iran from participating in international competitions until its athletes are willing to compete against Israelis. If only the federations would agree, they would show Tehran what it really means to embrace good sportsmanship and take a stand against discrimination.