On February 28th an article titled “Iran wrestling officials resign over Israel competition ban” appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page and on the BBC Sport website’s wrestling page. Readers found the following description of the story in the opening paragraph:
“The head of Iran’s wrestling federation has resigned after criticising authorities for letting players be punished because of the country’s ban on athletes competing against Israel.”
Which “authorities” did he criticise? That only becomes clear later on in the report.
“Wrestler Alireza Karimachiani was banned for six months after throwing a match to avoid an Israeli opponent last year.
Earlier this month, Mr Khadem criticised Iranian authorities for their stance on Israeli opponents, and called for a “fundamental solution” to the ongoing problem.
“Forcing an athlete to accept defeat or run around all night looking for a doctor’s note is not right,” he said.
He suggested he was forced from the post in a cryptic letter posted on the body’s website on Wednesday.”
What the BBC euphemistically describes as “the ongoing problem” is of course Iran’s practice of pressuring its sportspeople to avoiding competing against Israelis at international events. The BBC’s report describes that practice in typically tepid terms.
“Iran does not recognise the state of Israel. […]
Dozens of Iranian athletes have boycotted competitions against Israeli competitors since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.”
Coincidentally or not, the BBC’s report bears a strong resemblance to an AFP article published on the same day. However, the AFP report provides a more lucid account of the statements made by the head of Iran’s wrestling federation before he – voluntarily or not – quit his post.
“Khadem, argued that Iranians should openly admit they will not compete against Israelis rather than invent excuses, and accept the consequences.
“If we must continue with the policy of non-competition against the Zionist regime’s athletes, the responsibility cannot fall on the shoulders of the coach and the athlete,” he said on public radio, according to ISNA.
He said a “fundamental solution” needed to be reached by the Supreme Council for National Security.
“Forcing an athlete to accept defeat or run around all night looking for a doctor’s note is not right,” he added.
He had previously told ISNA that, if the country’s policy was to avoid Israeli rivals then it should “behave honestly and… accept the consequences”.”
Unlike the BBC report, the AFP article clarifies to readers that the Iranian policy of refusing to compete against Israelis does not comply with sporting rules.
“Dozens of Iranian athletes have boycotted competitions against Israelis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, either out of choice or under pressure from authorities.
But they have tended to lose earlier rounds, claim sickness or fail to show up, since an open refusal breaches international sporting regulations.”
Obviously the BBC could have done more to make this story comprehensible to audiences but instead, we once again see the corporation skirting around the issue of discrimination against Israelis in sport.