This weekend, the Iranian men’s wheelchair basketball team competing at the Paralympic Games in Beijing quit the tournament. The reason given was “dissatisfaction” with their “schedule,” although there is speculation that they quit because of the possibility they would play the Israeli team in the next round.
According to theTehran Times:
The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) and the International Paralympics Committee announced that Iran has pulled out of competition “due to their dissatisfaction with the draw proposed for the cross-over round and subsequent schedule”.
The draw placed Iran and Israel on the same side of the bracket, so that if they both won their quarterfinal matches (against the USA and Canada, respectively) they would play each other in the semifinals.
We wrote about two similar incidents during the Olympic Games in August, when Iranian and Syrian swimmers pulled out of races that included Israeli participants. The Iranian swimmer, Mohammad Alirezaei, had been complaining of stomach problems, but Syria gave no explanation for their athlete’s absence.
The explanation that Iran gave for their wheelchair basketball team’s decision is dubious at best, pitiful at worst. Says Ha’aretz:
“The main reason is…some change suddenly in the time of the match,” said the official, a member of Iran’s delegation in Beijing who refused to give his name because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“This sudden change has made a lot of problem for us,” the Iran official said. “[Because of] the problems this causes for the delegation, this team decided not to participate in the game.”
In other words, even though these athletes trained a lifetime to compete in the biggest tournament in the world for disabled athletes, the team quit because of the “problems” a mere schedule change caused to the Iranian “delegation.”
Here’s what the USA’s representative said:
“The U.S. team received notice of the time change about 24 hours before the match,” said Jeannine Hansen, a spokeswoman for the American delegation. “Teams were told before the Paralympics that competition times could change for television broadcasts or other reasons,” she said.
The truth is, times change for sporting events all the time. Just this past weekend, the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros had to move their series to an entirely different city because of Hurricane Ike.
So Iran’s explanation for quitting the tournament doesn’t quite satisfy. And as much as it is against the Olympic creed (and explicit IOC and IPC rules) to pull out of competition for political reasons, we should direct our sympathy towards the athletes, who not only couldn’t complete the tournament, but were told, according to Iran’s Paralympics supervisor, to “come back to Iran as soon as possible.”