During the World Youth Championships in Hungary, the coach of the Iranian team comes up to one of his wrestlers, a 17 year old Olympic hopeful, and places a bag of ice on his hand as he rested between matches.
“What are you putting on my hand?”
The coach explains.
“The problem is if you wrestle against Israel your name will be crossed out from the team forever. I am putting this ice on your hand so that you can forfeit due to medical injury,” the coach tells young Peyman.
When asked if he understands, the boy breaks down crying and pleads with his coach.
“Let me go on the mat! I’ll beat him if you’ll let me.”
The incident, from three years ago, was caught on camera.
Wrestling is a national sport in Iran. The Islamic nation ranked third in the London Olympics in 2012 and sixth in Rio this past month, with five medals.
Many young Iranian boys from indigent backgrounds take up wrestling in hopes it will become an avenue to better their prospects for the future. Peyman was one of thousands of boys who dedicated themselves to years of training and made many sacrifices to score a spot on the national team that competed in the World Youth championships.
But all of Peyman’s hard work would’ve been for nothing had he faced an Israeli competitor.
The incident is portrayed during a documentary from 2013 by Al Jazeera, an Arabic news network based in Qatar. The documentary, Iran’s Sporting Dreamers, is part of a regular series called Witness. Though the documentary is a few years old, it went viral in the last few days.
Iran and many other Arab nations do not recognize Israel as a legitimate state and athletes from these countries commonly refuse to play matches against Israeli athletes, preferring to forfeit. A Saudi athlete forfeited a match in this past Olympics reportedly to avoid facing her Israeli opponent.
Fortunately for Peyman, the Israeli lost to a wrestler from Greece, paving the way for Peyman to compete in the final. The Iranian team came in second, but when Peyman rejoiced over his victory, draping his country’s flag around his shoulders, his mantra was focused on Israel.
“The Israeli got knocked out!” he cheered.
Anti-Israel sentiment, which is a strain of anti-Semitism, has long tainted international sporting events. Iran considers Israel the “Little Satan” (America is considered the “Great Satan”). Based on Peyman’s reaction, the indoctrination has clearly made its way into the nation’s young minds.