Freestyle Iranian wrestler Alireza Karimi-Machiani was allegedly pressured to lose against Russia’s Alikhan Zhabrailov at the Senior U23 World Championship in Poland on Saturday to avoid facing Israel’s Uri Kalashnikov in the next round.
Iran does not recognise the state of Israel and has historically forbidden its athletes from competing against Israelis at international sporting events.
In a clip of the match shared by Iranian sports website, tarafdari.com, a man’s voice can be heard telling Karimi-Machiani “Bayad bebazi,” which translates to “you have to lose”. Soon after, the fight is shortly interrupted by the wrestler, who goes to speak with a man who appears to be his trainer and returns to lose the match 3-14.
The clip was widely shared on Twitter with hashtags that translate to #Alireza_Karimi, #Alireza_lose! #you’vegottolose! and #you’vegottoloseAlireza!
After the defeat, the Iranian wrestler shared a video on Instagram of him listening to a song by the popular Iranian singer Darioush Eqbali, which says “the last bunker is silence, our right cannot be taken away, even if you take away its sky, this bird won’t die.”
The video received sympathetic and critical comments, with people calling out the wrestler for not challenging his trainer’s orders to lose.
But Karimi-Machiani’s decision was not criticized by everyone. The Iranian Wrestling Federation issued a statement praising the wrestler’s decision.
Calling Karimi-Machiani a “hero”, the federation said it was the second time that the wrestler “stood against the oppression of the Palestinian people” at an international sporting event.