TEHRAN — The Iranian wrestler was cruising through the match, looking like a sure bet to defeat his Russian opponent. But suddenly, as if suffering an injury, he fell to the mat and was thrown around the ring like a rag doll by the surprised Russian. Finally, the match ended and the referee pronounced the Russian the winner.
But the Iranian wrestler was not injured. As Iranian news outlets reported on Tuesday, he said his real problem was that his coach had told him to throw the match to avoid facing an Israeli opponent in the next round of the tournament.
In Iran’s hard-line ideology, Israel is not recognized as a state, and supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei often refers to the country as “a cancerous tumor.” Iranian athletes are forbidden to compete with Israelis in any sport, and, if necessary, are told to forfeit their matches or to feign sickness.
The wrestler, Alireza Karimi-Machiani, 23, can be seen in blue in the video below, taking on Alikhan Zhabrailov, a Russian, on Saturday at the U23 World Senior Wrestling Championship in Poland. (Begin video at 5:50.)
Mr. Karimi-Machiani is easily defeating his opponent but after a couple of minutes his coach shouts, “Alireza, lose.” The Iranian wrestler shakes his head and continues, until his coach once again shouts at him. At that point, he throws in the towel, metaphorically speaking, and not for the first time — he did the same thing in 2013.
“I was told that the Israeli wrestler defeated his American rival, and that I must lose to avoid facing an Israeli opponent,” Mr. Karimi-Machiani said in an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency. “I have trained hard for months to win a gold medal, and it was easy for me to win.”