Iran has paid a judo champion who avoided an Olympic match against an Israeli the same $125,000 in prize money it awarded its gold medal winners, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said yesterday.

Though Arash Miresmaeili "did not get a gold medal, he earned eternal honor by his refusal," Mahmood Ahmadi Nejad, Tehran's conservative mayor, said, according to IRNA.

Miresmaeili reportedly had said that he would not meet Ehud Vaks in Athens as a gesture of sympathy with the Palestinian people. On the day of the bout, Miresmaeili, a favorite in the under-66 kilogram class, was declared overweight and disqualified.

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

Miresmaeili's $125,000 reward was the same the government gave to weightlifter Hossein Rezazadeh and taekwondo champion Hadi Saei Bonehkohal, who both won in Athens.

By missing weight, Miresmaeili could claim there was no political motive and thus avoid sanctions. The International Judo Federation investigated and concluded that he didn't miss his weight to avoid the bout.

Miresmaeili was the world judo champion in 2001 and 2003 and finished fifth at the Sydney Olympics. He carried the Iranian flag at the opening ceremony in Athens.

-- From News Services