An Israeli flag is burned by protesters at the 2019 “Quds Day” demonstration in Tehran. Photo: Reuters/Meghdad Madali.
An Iranian weightlifter was given a lifetime ban by authorities inside Iran for shaking hands with an Israeli competitor at the Masters World Weightlifting Championships in Wieliczka, Poland, which concluded on Saturday.
“The Weightlifting Federation bans the athlete Mostafa Rajai for life from accessing all sports facilities in the country, and dismisses the head of the delegation for the competition, Hamid Salehinia,” the federation said in a statement cited by the Iranian state news agency IRNA.
Rajai, who previously represented Iran at the 2015 Asian Championships, finished second in his category at the competition in Poland and stood on a podium with an Iranian flag wrapped around him on Saturday. He then shook hands and took a photo with Israeli weightlifter Maksim Svirsky, who finished third, while they both stood on the podium together.
The athlete “crossed the red lines of the Islamic Republic” as the Iranian delegation “was sent with the support of the federation,” according to IRNA.
“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,” the federation’s chief, Sajad Anoushiravani, reportedly said in a statement quoted by Al Jazeera.
The federation added that a committee representing veteran weightlifters has also been disbanded.
Iran does not recognize Israel and forbids its athletes from competing against Israelis. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated the country’s policy in a 2021 speech, saying, “Any Iranian athlete worthy of the name cannot shake hands with a representative of the criminal regime in order to win a medal.”
Iranian athletes have mostly avoided going head-t0-head against Israeli opponents in international events by pulling themselves out of competitions.
In 2019, Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei fled Iran after being forced to forfeit a match in order to avoid potentially competing against Israeli judoka Sagi Muki. After the ordeal, Iran was given a four-year ban on participating in all international judo competitions for its refusal to let its athletes square off against Israelis. Mollaei now competes for Mongolia.
Also in 2019, Iranian chess champion Alireza Firouzja renounced his nationality and said he would no longer play for his home country due to Iran’s ban against Israeli athletes.