Iran bans weightlifter for life after he shakes Israeli’s hand on podium

Maziar Motami

Al-Jazeera  /  August 30, 2023

Committee representing veteran weightlifters also dissolved after the two athletes take a photo at weightlifting championships in Poland.

Tehran, Iran Iran has banned a weightlifter from sports for life and dissolved a sports committee after the athlete greeted an Israeli counterpart on a podium.

Mostafa Rajaei, a veteran weightlifter, finished second in his category in the 2023 World Master Weightlifting Championships in Poland and stood on a podium with an Iranian flag wrapped around him on Saturday.

On another step of the podium stood Maksim Svirsky from Israel, who finished third.

The two athletes shook hands and took a picture together, which led to the Iran Weightlifting Federation banning Rajaei from all sports for life due to what it called an “unforgivable” transgression.

“The positions of the federation are aligned with the positions of the holy establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” it said, adding that Rajaei has been banned from entering “all sports facilities” for the rest of his life.

Hamid Salehinia, who headed the weightlifting team, was also removed from his post, and the federation said a committee formed to represent veteran weightlifters has been dissolved as well.

“In addition to apologizing to the leader of the revolution, the families of martyrs and all the people of Iran, I promise we will certainly never witness incidents like this in the weightlifting family,” federation chief Sajad Anoushiravani said in a statement.

More than 1,000 athletes from 47 countries participated in the weightlifting championships in Krakow, according to organizers.

Iran does not recognize Israel as a country and strictly forbids any contact between Iranian and Israeli athletes.

For years, Iranian athletes have refused to face Israelis in competitions and many times have been disqualified from tournaments or have bowed out of competitions on medical grounds.

The country has also faced criticism and some bans over its refusal to allow its athletes to compete against Israelis.

Judo’s world governing body in 2021 imposed a four-year suspension on Iran over the issue.

A number of Iranian athletes have defected over pressure from the authorities.

Among them was Alireza Firouzja, a chess prodigy who left Iran after the sports federation banned him from playing in the 2019 world championship due to concerns that he could face an Israeli opponent. Firouzja now plays under the French flag.

Maziar Motamedi is a Tehran-based journalist who covers Iran