Politics Pollute Inaugural Youth Olympic Games

Iran was accused of putting politics before sports at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore on Sunday after withdrawing from a taekwondo final against Israel. The Iranian delegation told the Games' internal news service that Mohammad Soleimani did not compete because of injury, while Israel called the withdrawal politically motivated. "My understanding is that he was taken to [a] hospital and unable to compete," International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams told the Associated Press.

But Alex Gilady, an IOC member from Israel who handed out medals for the competition, isn't buying it. Iran does not recognize Israel and has a policy of not competing against its athletes. In recent years, it has used various tactics to justify withdrawal. Gilady doubted Soleimani was injured and needed hospitalization, and claimed the move was made to ensure Iran didn't violate Olympic rules. Gilady told AP reporter Michael Casey that once Soleimani was deemed injured, he would win the silver medal and would have "to stand on the podium and listen to the Israeli anthem and see the Israeli flag over the Iranian flag."

The AP reports that another potential conflict was averted Monday when an Israeli and an Iranian swimmer competed in different heats of the 200-meter individual medley, and the Iranian failed to advance past the first heat.

So much for the Games' goal of inspiring young people around the world to "embrace, embody and express the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect."

The Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games began Friday and will run through Aug. 26. An estimated 5,000 athletes and officials from 205 National Olympic Committees are expected to participate, with young athletes between the ages of 14 and 18 competing in 26 sports. The Games have been criticized for the amount of money Singapore is spending ($390 million, reportedly three times the initial estimate), and some observers have questioned whether they are even necessary. "A 15-year-old Tara Lipinski took figure-skating gold at Nagano, Kerri Strug landed her gold-clinching vault at 18 and Michael Phelps collected eight medals before his 20th birthday," wrote Clay Dillow in Fast Company magazine. "Of course, 12 days filled with 3,600 competitors, 370,000 spectators and sponsors ranging from Samsung to McDonald's means that while athletes compete for gold, silver and bronze … Singapore is a lock to bring home the green."

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