An allegedly anti-Israel boycott by an Iranian swimmer has set off a wave of recriminations in Israel.
The episode started yesterday, when Iranian sprinter Mohammed Alirezaei, rather than compete against Israeli swimmer Gal Nevo, skipped a 100-meter breast stroke heat at the world swimming championships in Shanghai.
Nevo, whose first name means “wave” in Hebrew, responded angrily to Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, saying it was time for FINA, the world swimming body, to “deal with” Alirezaei, who he said had boycotted races against Israelis twice before. (The Iranian swimmer skipped a race at the 2008 Beijing Olympics against Israeli swimmer Tom Beeri, citing illness — an explanation the International Olympic Committee accepted.)
Nevo failed to advance to the next round, ranking 45th out of 83 swimmers. But he told Yediot Aharonot he was “happy I beat the Syrian and Lebanese [swimmers] because every Jew should defeat Arabs.”
The comments elicited a sharp reaction from Arab-Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi, himself no shrinking violet. Tibi described the remarks as emblematic of broader racism in Israeli society, but singled out sports in particular as a bastion of Israeli bigotry. Nevo’s “statements prove that a muddy wave of racism is washing over Israel and penetrating sport,” Tibi said. Despite Nevo’s remarks, Israel’s national swim team is not seeking punishment for Alirezaei. Cornel Marculescu, FINA’s executive director, says the swimming association is investigating the nature of the Iranian’s withdrawal.