When Athletic Competition Collides With Hate

It’s the video that has taken Israeli social media by storm.

Released by Al Jazeera last week, a media outlet widely associated with coverage highly critical of Israel, it shows a young Iranian wrestler preparing for a fight at the World Youth Championships in Hungary. The video description states the tournament’s stakes in no uncertain terms: “success in championships like these, for a rare and lucky few, is a stepping stone to becoming an Olympic winner.”

As the Iranian team coach approaches and discretely grabs Peyman Yarahmadi’s arm, he looks confused. “What are you putting on my hand?” Peyman asks. “The problem is if you wrestle against Israel, your name will be crossed out from the team forever,” the couch reminds him. “I am putting ice on your hand so we can forfeit due to medical injury.” The wrestler begs, as tears stream down his face, “Let me go on the mat! I’ll beat him if you let me!”

The clip ends amidst slow music, clearly designed to illustrate the heartbreaking tragedy of the situation. A chyron explains, “Iran doesn’t recognize Israel as a state. By common practice, Iranian athletes don’t compete against Israeli athletes.”

This video has gone viral just weeks after the far more high-profile snub of Israel at the Rio Olympic Games. Islam El Shehaby, an Egyptian judoka and three-time Olympian, stormed off the mat and now infamously refused to shake the hands of his Israeli opponent after losing a match in the first round, a major breach of judo edicate.

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