Iran has officially announced that its athletes will refuse to compete against Israelis in the upcoming London Olympics. While against the rules, that stand is actually more flexible than the one Iran took early last year.
In February 2011, Iran’s National Olympic Committee threatened to boycott the games entirely. Mohammad Aliabadi, head of the committee, accused the games of being “racist” and offensive to the “principles and values” of Iran.
The reason for all this upset? The 2012 Olympics logo — which had been unveiled four years earlier — was seen as a Zionist plot.
The letter Aliabadi sent to the International Olympic Committee called the logo “revolting” and the games pro-Zionist. Aliabadi, whose Olympic Committee reflects the Iranian government’s rejection of Israel’s legitimacy, claimed that the word “Zion” was hidden within the configuration of the logo’s numbers “2012” and therefore an insult to Iran’s principles.
It seems that the Olympics logo has historically been the most uniting force of the global games, inasmuch as everyone loves to hate it. According to a March 2011 article in The Week, this year’s logo was criticized as being everything from pornographic (one website managed to discern the logo as a representation of Lisa Simpson and her brother engaged in sexual behavior) to evocative of the symbol used by the Nazi Waffen SS.
University of Colorado sports sociologist Jay Coakley was not surprised that people take the logo so seriously. “Lately they’ve put a lot of time and effort into them because they represent a lot about the image the host country wants to show the rest of the world It’s tough to make everyone happy.”
Still, he said of the Iranian charge: “I would not have caught that — and I’ve taught race and ethnicity for many years.’”
The IOC denied allegations that the logo design represented anything other than the year 2012. British Prime Minister David Cameron told the London-based paper Jewish News: “If the Iranians don’t want to come, don’t come — we won’t miss you.”
A couple of weeks later, Iran announced that it would, in fact, attend the Olympic Games. The logo has not been changed, although an animated video of it was taken down from Youtube shortly after the logo’s introduction in 2007, when Epilepsy Action, a British charity, reported that its dizzying motions had caused 10 people to suffer seizures.
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