Iranian judoka, Israeli coach record message about peace, friendship in sports

July 28, 2021 by JNS
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Iranian judoka Vahid Sarlak and Israel’s national women’s judo coach Shani Hershko filmed a message about keeping politics out of sports at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Israel’s national women’s judo coach Shani Hershko (left) with Iranian judoka Vahid Sarlak. Source: Screenshot.

“I am next to Israeli athletes. I have a great message for you. They really love Iranians,” Sarlak said at the start of the video, which was shared on Twitter on Monday by Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad.

Hershko then told viewers, “We like Iranian people. We are friends. We can do many things together, to work together. For me, we are like brothers, like one family. So I wish one day I can go to Iran, and you can go to Israel and be our friend.”

The two men then hugged before Sarlak said “sports is sports, not politics.”

“We don’t care about politics. We care about people, to smile, to be happy, and to do judo and fight on the tatami. Then you are friends,” added Hershko.

Sarlak concluded the clip by addressing Alinejad, saying, “I filmed this to show that world athletes love Iran, whether one is Israeli or Iranian. We are all human beings with one nationality. We have no frontiers among human beings.”

Alinejad launched a campaign “United for Navid” to protest the hanging of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari in September for his role in protesting regime corruption in 2018. Sarlak joined the campaign, too.

Sarlak, who now lives in exile, made headlines in 2005 when he was forced by the Iranian Federation to forfeit a match against an Israeli opponent in World Championships in Cairo. In an interview with CNN recently, he described the forfeit as the “worst day of his life.”

Monday’s video comes after two judokas pulled out of the Olympics to avoid competing against Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul.

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