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Iran's Judo Champ Withdraws From Olympics, Ending Chance Of Facing Israeli

Iranian judo champion Javad Mahjoub will miss the London 2012 Olympics because he needs a 10-day course of antibiotics, according to reports. But few Olympic observers are worried about the health of Mahjoub, 21. Many of them see the withdrawal as a ploy to keep from competing against an Israeli.

From London, Tom Goldman filed this report for NPR's Newscast:

"Javad Mahjoub reportedly didn't make the trip to London because he has 'a critical digestive system infection.' Mahjoub is the only Iranian who would've potentially competed against an athlete from Israel.

"Iran has had a policy of not competing against Israelis, and was criticized for having its athletes withdraw from events against Israelis at the last two Summer Olympics.

"Monday, an Iranian Olympic official signaled a change in that policy at the London Games, saying, 'We will be truthful to sport.'

"But with Mahjoub out, that becomes moot. This past weekend, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said athletes who refuse to compete against another competitor will be punished."

Mahjoub has admitted going to great lengths to avoid such punishment, even purposely losing a match against a German opponent, so he wouldn't have to be matched against an Israeli — and thus risk a four-year ban when he refused to participate.

Reporting on the story, the Tehran Times included a photo of the 6'1 Mahjoub. In it, he is seated, and seems to be getting his blood pressure checked.

Iran has sent more than 50 athletes to the 2012 Olympics. But it has sought to snub Israel at the games before, including in 2004, when the country's gold-medal favorite in judo, Arash Miresmaeili, withdrew from a match against an Israeli.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.