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Draw had pitted Iranian champ vs. Israeli foe

ATHENS, Greece -- International judo officials are
investigating whether a two-time champion from Iran who reportedly
said he wouldn't fight an Israeli opponent deliberately avoided the
bout Sunday by showing up overweight.

Arash Miresmaeili, a favorite in the under 146-pound (66kg)
class, was declared overweight at the morning weigh-in and
disqualified for his first-round bout against Ehud Vaks.

After Thursday's draw, the Iranian press agency IRNA quoted
Miresmaeili as saying: "I refused to play against an Israeli rival
to sympathize with the oppressed Palestinian people.''

Iran does not recognize Israel and bans any contact with the
Jewish state.

The International Judo Federation met to consider the
circumstances around the disqualification and will meet again
Monday, said federation spokesman Michel Brousse.

"No decision was made but we are studying very closely this
question,'' Brousse told The Associated Press. "We need to
investigate more elements.''

Miresmaeili "was overweight and we need now to investigate
more,'' he said. "Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and we
don't want to accuse anyone.''

By merely missing weight, Miresmaeili could claim that he had
not ascribed a political motive to his actions and thus avoid any
sanctions for his decision. The federation did not disclose his
weight.

After Miresmaeili was disqualified, Iran's ambassador to Greece
praised Miresmaeili, IRNA reported. In a message, Mehdi Mohtashami
was quoted by IRNA as saying, "On behalf of all institutions and
Iran's embassy in Greece, I congratulate you on your courageous
move to refuse to compete with a judoka from the Zionist regime.''

"Certainly, the Iranian nation considers Miresmaeili as the
real champion of the 2004 Olympic Games,'' the message added.

After advancing because of the disqualification, Vaks lost in
the next round to Amar Meridja of Algeria.

Miresmaeili was world judo champion in 2001 and 2003 and
finished fifth at the Sydney Olympics. He carried the Iranian flag
at Friday's opening ceremony in Athens and was considered a
favorite to win Iran's first gold medal in judo.

Iranian athletes have refused to compete against Israelis in the
past. At the 2001 judo world championships, Mahed Malekmohammadi of
Iran did not compete again Yoel Razvozov.

Earlier Sunday, Brousse disclosed it had received a statement
from the president of the Iranian judo federation saying "that the
rumors were not true'' concerning Miresmaeili's refusal to compete.

Miresmaeili has not participated in any major international
tournaments this season, although he did train for a tournament in
Paris in April.

The last time he competed internationally was at the world
championships in September 2003 in Osaka, where he beat France's
Larbi Benboudaoud, who was the runner-up in the Sydney Olympics in
the 66kg class.

Brousse noted that judo's ideals are the same as those which IOC
President Jacques Rogge mentioned at the opening ceremony. Rogge
had mentioned that athletes "give us reasons to believe in sport
that is increasingly credible and pure by refusing doping and
respecting fair play.''

The IOC said the issue had not been brought to its attention.

"This issue has never come to the table at the IOC level,'' IOC
spokeswoman Giselle Davies said. "He was overweight. It's not
appropriate to make any comment. For us it's an issue for the
federation.''