TEHRAN — The Olympics are supposed to be a time when nations put aside their differences, no matter how large, and square off on the playing field for some intense yet friendly competition.
But for Iran and Israel, two countries that have each been on edge with anxiety about the other’s actions and intentions this summer, it appears that’s not going to happen.
Despite an Iranian assertion on Monday that its athletes would compete against Israeli Olympians at the 2012 Games, the Iranian team departed for London hours earlier, leaving behind the lone athlete who had the possibility of facing an Israeli opponent.
On Sunday, Iranian authorities announced that that athlete, Javad Mahjoob, a judo champion, is suffering from a “critical digestive system infection,” forcing him to take antibiotics and cancel plans for the Games, which begin Friday.
Mahjoob’s absence has led to speculation that Iran is maintaining its long-standing policy of not allowing its athletes to compete with Israeli opponents.
Mahjoob himself has acknowledged going to great lengths to keep from squaring off against an Israeli. In a 2011 interview with the Iranian newspaper Shargh, Mahjoob admitted to throwing a match against a German opponent, saying that, “If I won I would have had to compete with an Israeli athlete. And if I refused to compete with the Israeli, they would have suspended our Judo federation for four years.”
Israel’s judoka in the 100-kilogram weight class, Ariel “Arik” Ze’evi, will be competing in his fourth Olympic Games. The 35-year-old won a bronze medal at the 2004 Games in Athens and is widely considered to hold one of Israel’s best chances of taking home a medal in London.