Vol. 5 Num 80 Sun. August 15, 2004  

Fine better than facing Israel!

Iran's Olympic team chief said world judo champion Arash Miresmaeili should receive a 115,000 dollar (61,000 pounds) reward for refusing to compete against Israel in his first-round match at the Athens Olympics.

"I hope Iran's sporting officials agree to give the reward which he deserves, because he could easily have won a medal of some colour," Nassrollah Sajadi told the Sharq newspaper.

Miresmaeili, twice world champion, finished fifth in Sydney and carried the Iranian flag during the Athens opening ceremony on Friday night.

But following the draw, Miresmaeili was paired with Ehud Vaks of Israel in the first round of the men's under 66kg category and an Asian Judo Union official said he would be withdrawn rather than face the Israeli.

Since its 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has refused to recognise the state of Israel's right to exist and has allied itself to the Palestinian cause.

Israeli team spokesman Yaron Michaeli said they had received no word Miresmaeili would not appear.

"We have come to Athens to participate in sport and not in politics. The nationality of Israel's opponents is unimportant and they will face anybody," he said.