Passive aggressive: Iran, Israel and the Olympics


Members of the Iran Olympic delegation arrive at the Athletes' Village at the Olympic Park in London, England on July 23, 2012.


Khaled Desouki - Pool

The summer Olympics are hot. But are they hot enough to thaw the ice between Israel and Iran?

Yesterday, the head of the Iranian Olympics Committee, Bahram Afsharzadeh, announced that Iranian athletes would compete against their Israeli counterparts during the London games. Afsharazadeh said that this year Iran would put aside its politics and “be truthful to the sport.”

Iran’s decision came as a surprise for those familiar with their Olympic antics. In the past, Iran has drawn flak for its athletes’ refusal to face off against Israeli competitors, claiming injuries shortly before the matches.

This turn of events comes at a time when relations between the two regional enemies are particularly tense. Israeli concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions have raised the specter of a possible attack on the latter. And last week’s bombing of a bus full of Israeli citizens in Bulgaria only made matters worse, as Israel was quick to point the finger at Iran.

The announcement out of Iran yesterday seemed like a potential olive branch.

Well, not everything is as it seems.

Though Iran may have said its athletes will not refuse to compete against Israelis, the only Iranian competitor who could have potentially faced an Israeli opponent did not go to London.

Javad Mahjoob, an Iranian judo competitor, was left behind in Tehran due to a reported infection in his digestive system. Mahjoob’s conspicuous absence is calling the sincerity of yesterday’s announcement into question. This wouldn't be the first time Mahjoob has sat out because of Israeli competition, having admitted to losing a match in order to avoid fighting an Israeli.

Now that's Olympic spirit.