- Associated Press - Saturday, March 3, 2018

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - The resigned head of Iran’s wrestling federation has asked the country’s diplomats to take responsibility and support athletes who refuse to compete against Israelis, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported Saturday.

The government usually rewards athletes for such behavior but Rasoul Khadem says diplomats stop short of taking a position in the international sports community.

The report quoted Khadem as saying Iran’s diplomats should defend the country’s political positions in sport.

Khadem resigned from his position on Wednesday in apparent protest but it was rejected by the Ministry of Sport and Youth.

Israel and Iran are bitter adversaries and Iranian athletes traditionally refrain from competing against Israelis.

In November, wrestler Ali Reza Karimi received a six-month ban by United World Wrestling after his manager, Hamidreza Jamshidi, ordered him to throw a match against a Russian competitor to avoid facing an Israeli wrestler during the U-23 World Championship in Poland. Iran’s sports ministry praised the athlete for supporting “human values.” Jamshidi received a two-year ban.

Iran has had a long-time policy of avoiding Israelis in athletic competitions, frequently at the expense of its own competitors. An Iranian swimmer refused to enter the same pool as an Israeli at the Beijing Olympics and in the 2004 Athens Games an Iranian judo competitor refused to face an Israeli and pulled out of the competition.

The last competition between Iranian and Israeli teams on the international level dates back to a wrestling match in 1983 in Kiev, Ukraine.

Occasionally, Iranian athletes who play for foreign teams have faced Israeli teams. In August, Tehran criticized two Iranian soccer players who play for a Greek team for participating in a match against an Israeli team.

Iran does not recognize Israel and supports anti-Israeli militant groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas.

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