Alireza Karimi: Iran wrestler banned for losing to avoid Israel opponent

J'den Cox and Alireza Karimi prepare to wrestle at Rio 2016
Iran's Alireza Karimi (right) lost to American J'den Cox in the quarter-finals at Rio 2016

An Iranian wrestler has been banned for six months after deliberately losing to avoid a bout with an Israeli opponent.

Alireza Karimi was leading Russia's Alikhan Zhabrailov 3-2 in the 86kg freestyle quarter-final at the Under-23 World Championships in November.

After being told to lose, Karimi, 23, deliberately conceded points to lose 14-3 in order to avoid a semi-final against Israel's Uri Kalashnikov.

His coach, Hamidreza Jamshidi, was banned from the sport for two years.

Iran does not recognise the state of Israel and forbids its athletes from competing against Israelis at international sporting events.

"Karimi, on instruction of his coach Jamshidi, wilfully lost his quarter-finals match against Alikhan Zhabrailov," a United World Wrestling statement said.

"Both wrestler and coach were found to have acted in direct violation of the International Wrestling Rules and the UWW Disciplinary Regulations."

In freestyle wrestling, a competitor can win on technical superiority by achieving a 10-point lead over their opponent. Karimi allowed himself to be felled by Zhabrailov and repeatedly conceded two points while rolling over with his legs held.

Karimi admitted that he had been told to lose shortly after the match as a clip of it went viral on social media in Iran.

Zhabrailov went on to win the championship but Karimi said he had been sure of winning a gold medal and that authorities "undermined" his work.

Wrestling is hugely popular in Iran and at the time, the country's government paid tribute to Karimi, praising him for his "noble and heroic action" and calling him "a source of pride and praise".

Karimi's ban ends on 23 May, although the suspension only applies to international matches, leaving him free to wrestle domestically.

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