Saturday, August 14, 2004

Judo champion to world: "I am a tool."

That's basically what Iranian World judo champion Arash Miresmaili declared to the global athletic community yesterday by refusing to face fellow Olympian Ehud Vaks of Israel in the first round of competition "in solidarity with the Palestinians" - a move which could get him kicked out of the games entirely. Now you can feel however you want about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (for the record I'm not too terribly pleased with Israel's actions of late either), but the whole point of the Olympic movement is that athletes come from around the world to compete with their fellow athletes as athletes, and not citizens of their respective countries, with all the attendant political baggage.

Of course this doesn't always happen, and on occasion there have been egregious instances of the stupidity of the times getting in the way of the Olympic spirit - the American boycott of the 1980 Games in Moscow, for example, or the Soviet Union's tit-for-tat response in 1984, the abduction and murder of Israeli athletes by the P.L.O. during the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, or the refusal of Adolf Hitler to present Jesse Owens with his gold medal in the infamous "Nazi Games" of 1936 in Berlin. Mr. Miresmaili's decision to value his country's politics over competition for competition's sake is sad and unfortunate and undercuts the very worth of his title as world champion as well. No doubt he is being celebrated as a hero in some quarters, but to me and countless other believers in the Olympic ideal, he will now and forevermore be nothing but a tool.

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