Olympics Hit by Crisis Over Iran-Israel Contest
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Olympics Hit by Crisis Over Iran-Israel Contest


Aug 15, 11:11 AM (ET)

By Douglas Hamilton

ATHENS (Reuters) - Iran's world judo champion Arash Miresmaeili refused to compete against an Israeli Sunday, triggering a fresh crisis at the Olympic Games where race, creed or color are barred from interfering in sport.

The International Judo Federation (IJF) failed to agree how to deal with the politically explosive issue at an emergency meeting and said it would hold further talks Monday.

The burning issue was whether any penalty would hit Miresmaeili alone or the entire Iranian team, as the intrusion of the Middle East's bitter politics threatened to fly in the face of the Olympic ideal.

"There has been no decision and we are considering this situation very carefully," said IJF spokesman Michel Brousse.

"This has not been brought to us as an issue and until it is, we would not have any comment," said a spokeswoman for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which pledges to uphold the ideal of sport transcending national barriers.

The official reason at the Games for Miresmaeili's non-appearance was failure to make the weight but judo chiefs questioned how a seasoned athlete, who carried Iran's flag at Friday's opening ceremony, would have made such a basic error.

REAL REASON

But in Tehran, the Iranian National Olympic Committee said in a statement: "This is a general policy of our country to refrain from competing against athletes of the Zionist regime and Arash Miresmaeili has observed this policy."

Iran has refused to recognize Israel's right to exist since Islamic fundamentalists toppled the Shah in 1979.

Miresmaeili, who had been due to fight Israeli Ehud Vaks, was quoted by Iran's official news agency IRNA as saying he acted in solidarity with the Palestinians.

"Although I have trained for months and am in shape I refused to face my Israeli rival in sympathy with the oppressed Palestinian people," said Miresmaeili, 66 kg world champion in 2001 and 2003. "I am not upset about the decision I have made."

In a fresh doping case, Slovak shot putter Milan Haborak tested positive for a banned substance and left the Olympics, the Slovak news agency SITA reported.

"I really am sorry because I was really looking forward to competing. I trained long and hard. But I do not know that I took something that is banned," SITA quoted Haborak as saying.

Team spokesman Anton Zerer refused to comment on the report.

The Games were rocked last Thursday when Greece's top two athletes, Olympic 200 meters champion Costas Kenteris and 100 meters silver medallist Katerina Thanou, missed a dope test.

They were dropped from the host nation's team Saturday pending an IOC disciplinary hearing Monday.

HOT AIR

On the second day of full competition at the Olympics, Athens was blasted by a hot, hair-dryer wind that threatened to spook the horses at the equestrian events and may have blown some arrows off course at the archery.

The rowing regatta had to be stopped, prompting some told-you-so comments from critics who said it was in the wrong place to begin with.

But the gusting winds could not stop Russia's Alexei Alipov winning gold in the men's trap shooting with a near-flawless performance on a range carved into a mountain top.

The 29-year-old from Moscow scored 149 out of a possible 150, including a perfect 25 in the final round.

Swimming again grabbed most attention as Australia's Ian Thorpe won round one of a duel with American Michael Phelps, qualifying fastest for the 200 meters freestyle.

Thorpe showed no signs of fatigue from his titanic struggle with Grant Hackett in Saturday's 400 freestyle final victory as he cruised through his heat in one minute 47.22 seconds.

OLYMPIC BIRTHPLACE

The archery contest returned the Olympics to their birthplace in Athens's Panathinaiko Stadium, 108 years after the first Games were held at the classical marble amphitheater.

Attendance at the first Summer Olympics since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States three years ago has disappointed in the first two days, but organizers hope it will soon pick up.

Athens has spent 1 billion euros ($1.23 billion) on security, four times more than Sydney in 2000, and security personnel outnumber athletes seven to one.

So organizers were swift to play down a British newspaper's charge that security at the Games was a "terrorist's dream."

Sunday Mirror tabloid reporter Bob Graham said a job as a driver allowed him to wander round the main stadium close to world leaders during Friday's opening ceremony.

But the organizers said a background check had been conducted on Graham before he got the job and the "suspicious packages" he planted were not detected precisely because they were harmless.



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