Sajjad Ganjzadeh has publicly criticised Iran's policy of stopping Iranians from competing against Israelis ©Getty Images

Olympic karate champion Sajjad Ganjzadeh has criticised Iran's policy of preventing the country's athletes from competing against Israelis.

Ganjzadeh, who won gold in the men's kumite over-75 kilograms at Tokyo 2020, posted an unhappy message on Instagram, which has now been deleted, complaining that the prohibition forces Iranian athletes to participate in only Asian competitions.

Israel has not participated in the Asian Games since 1974, with the country's National Olympic Committee a member of the European Olympic Committees rather than the Olympic Council of Asia.

Iran is one of a number of Asian countries which does not recognise Israel.

Iranian athletes have frequently withdrawn from competitions to avoid facing opponents from Israel.

"We cannot tolerate this anymore," Ganjzadeh said in the Instagram post, per Iran International.

"Not competing is more difficult than competing."

The World Karate Federation (WKF) did not comment after being contacted by Insidethegames.

The ban is not legislative and instead applied through pressure from officials as well as the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran missed the Karate World Championships in Dubai last year ©ITG
Iran missed the Karate World Championships in Dubai last year ©ITG

Khamenei repeated the supposed merits of this policy following the conclusion of Tokyo 2020 and has pledged to help athletes who are punished by International Federations for refusing to face Israelis.

Iran’s Amir Mehdizadeh, an Asian Games gold medallist, and Israeli Ahmad Abu Basal both competed at the recent Karate 1-Premier League event in Matosinhos but in separate divisions so there was no possibility of the them meeting on the mat.

Mehdizadeh participated in the under-67kg class while Basal was listed in the over-84kg category - Ganjzadeh's weight division.

Iran withdrew from last year's Karate World Championships in Dubai, but the WKF insisted this was due to COVID-19 issues and not the presence of Israeli athletes. 

Judo world champion Saeid Mollaei is among the notable athletes to have deserted Iran because of the policy against facing Israelis.

After being told to lose a bout at the 2019 World Championships to avoid a potential match versus an athlete from Israel, Mollaei defected and represents Mongolia, for whom he won a silver medal at Tokyo 2020.

The International Judo Federation (IJF) responded by banning Iran from international competitions for four years.

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei defected to Mongolia after being ordered to lose on purpose to avoid facing an Israeli opponent ©Getty Images
Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei defected to Mongolia after being ordered to lose on purpose to avoid facing an Israeli opponent ©Getty Images

Defected judoka Mohammad Rashnonezhad is a member of the IJF Refugee Team and this status meant he could participate against Israeli Lior Rafailov in the Dubrovnik Senior European Cup earlier this year.

In taekwondo, Refugee Olympic Team athlete Kimia Alizadeh - a bronze medallist at the Rio 2016 Olympics for Iran - beat Iranian player Nahid Kiani at Tokyo 2020.

Greco-Roman wrestler Ali Arsalan defected to Serbia in December.

A policy of not competing against Israel is not limited to Iran.

It was widely reported that Jordanian Eyas Al Zamer withdrew from the men’s cadet foil event and Kuwaiti Mohammed Alfadhli quit the men's junior sabre competition at the Junior and Cadet Fencing World Championships in Dubai this month because they refused to face Israeli opposition.

Libya's junior men's épée side also pulled out of the tournament for the same reason.

Jordan established full diplomatic relations with Israel after signing peace treaties in 1979 and 1994, but Libya and Kuwait like Iran refuse to recognise Israel as a sovereign state.

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a source of major tension between Israel and many Arab states.