Sport has long been used to promote peace. The “Olympic Truce” was established in ancient Greece in the 9th century BC and was made so that all athletes and their families could travel in total safety to participate in or attend the Olympic Games and return afterwards to their respective countries. Today, the Olympic Charter states that every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination and in an Olympic spirit of mutual understanding, friendship and fair play.

Two of muaythai’s elite athletes are setting a great example of how sport unites everybody and transcends cultural boundaries. Despite their respective nations having political differences, these two athletes can truly show that sport can make a difference, and that a peaceful existence together is possible.

Ilya Grad is Israel’s muaythai champion who recently won a gold medal in the FAMA Open Asian Championships. Mostafa Abdollahi is the Iranian muaythai champion, former Prince’s Cup and Asian Games gold medallist, and also Captain of Iran’s national muaythai team.
Both fighters are preparing in Koh Samui, Thailand at the WMC Lamai Gym, getting ready for the upcoming SportAccord Combat Games in Beijing. Both of them are medal hopes for their countries and so they have decided to work, train and push each other to become the best they can.

Mostafa says, “In Beijing history will be made for martial arts and I am proud to be part of this history. Martial art, especially muaythai, is based on respect and honour and respecting each other is such an important part of the sport”.

Ilya agrees: “The respect you receive from your opponent is just as important as the respect you have for your opponent, and if we can become friends then it’s a victory which turns into friendship that lasts forever.”

The two athletes originally struck up their unlikely friendship at the 2009 IFMA World Championships in Bangkok, where the Israeli fighter even asked the Iranian to be in his corner to show that politics has no place in muaythai:

“We started to talk a couple of days before the competition as we used the muaythai gym of the championship together. We began to help each other by holding pads, and in a competition like this, the best of the best meet and all try to help each other. We started to talk a lot after training and realised how many things we have things in common; having the same dreams and goals overall to become a champion to make our families and our country proud. That’s how muaythai bonded us. Mostafa has a fiercely determined character and never misses training so it’s great to partner up with him in this last crucial training time before Beijing.”

Both fighters are great ambassadors for the sport and their countries as they value the importance of fair play, respect and friendly competition!

Mostafa says: “We have now started training together in the past few months in the countdown to Beijing. Ilya will fight in 71kg and I’m in 75kg, so although we won’t fight each other in Beijing, he’s close to my weight so he’s a good sparring partner. We’ve made a good plan to partner up in the training and push each other twice each day, I think this will be really beneficial for both of us in preparation for the most important competition of my career so far. Ilya has good technique, also he’s very tall! Normally my opponents are taller than me so it’s a good test. Ilya is reliable and dedicated to his training; he’s so motivated to better himself and always has his eyes on the gold medal so for sure we will be working to our absolute maximum!”

Friendship and respect are key elements in muaythai and IFMA places a great deal of importance on cultural education and exchange programs, to encourage understanding and appreciation of different countries and beliefs.

It’s encouraging to see that muaythai promotes peaceful relations, and whilst both fighters will walk into the Beijing Opening Ceremony carrying the flag of their own respective
countries; they are undoubtedly also flying the flag for peace.

These two young men are role models and ambassadors, giving hope and clearly showing that sport can make a difference in a world so desperately in need of peace.