Iranian authorities suspend weightlifter Mustafa Rajaj for life from sports after shaking hands with Israeli athlete
Posted : 30 August 2023
An incident involving Israeli weightlifter Maxim Swirsky and his Iranian counterpart, Mustafa Rajaj, has led to significant repercussions within the Iranian Weightlifters Association. The two athletes were photographed together and even exchanged a handshake during a competition in Poland. This act of sportsmanship angered Iranian authorities, resulting in severe consequences for Rajaj and his team leader.
Mustafa Rajaj, after shaking hands with Israeli athlete Maxim Swirski at the weightlifting competition in Poland, faced harsh consequences from Iranian authorities. The Weightlifters Federation imposed a lifetime suspension on Rajaj, preventing him from participating in any sports activities within the country. Furthermore, the Islamic State authorities took further action by banning him from sports altogether. Notably, the head of the Iranian national team also faced punishment, including suspension from his position.
The incident occurred during a veteran weightlifting competition in Wieliczka, Poland, where Rajaj secured the silver medal and Swirski won the bronze. A photograph of the two athletes on the podium sparked outrage in Iran, exacerbated by their visible interaction and handshake, which was deemed offensive within the country's context.
A formal statement from the official Iranian regime news agency declared, "Athlete Mustafa Rajaj has been suspended for life from playing any sport and from accessing all sports facilities in the country. Head of delegation Hamid Salhania has also been suspended."
This incident is not isolated, as Iran's ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, previously directed athletes representing the country to refrain from shaking hands with Israeli competitors who achieve medals. For years, Iranian athletes have actively avoided competitions against Israelis, sometimes deliberately losing or retiring to prevent such encounters.
A precedent for these tensions can be observed in the 2019 World Judo Championships in Japan. Iranian judoka Saeed Moulay's semifinal loss avoided a potential matchup with Israeli judoka Sagi Muki in the final. Moulay subsequently lost the bronze-medal contest, preventing him from sharing the podium with the Israeli champion. Iranian athletes have taken such actions to avoid any association with Israelis in international sporting events.
Saeed Moulay's experiences reflect this pattern. He made an unusual public statement expressing frustration over having to consider political implications while competing alongside Israelis. Moulay later became a Mongolian citizen, representing Mongolia in international competitions, including the Tokyo Olympics where he secured a silver medal. In a notable turn of events, Moulay visited Israel in 2021 to participate in the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, achieving a silver medal under Mongolia's flag.
The incident involving Rajaj and Swirski highlights the complex intersection of sports and politics, shedding light on the challenges faced by athletes in countries with diplomatic tensions.