Iranian athlete Mehrdad Karam Zadeh refused to shake the Duchess of Cambridge’s hand after she presented him with his discus silver medal on Sunday.
The Royal was warmly received on the podium by Paralympic GB’s gold medal winner Aled Davies and Chinese bronze medallist Lezheng Wang – but when it was Mehrdad Karam Zadeh’s turn to step up, the 40-year-old failed to offer a hand to the Duchess, clutching them close to his chest.
His decision not to shake hands with the Duchess was likely to have been a result of Iranian cultural convention which bans such contact between unrelated men and women. The Duchess appeared to have been briefed on the situation, because she did not offer her hand either.
His decision not to shake her hand threatened to overshadow a glittering night for Paralympics GB, which enjoyed its most successful day of the Games so far with seven gold medals.
The Iranian delegation in London have not been available to comment on the incident, but according to the Daily Telegraph, they have told Games organizers Mehrdad Karam Zadeh was not making a political statement.
It’s believed the athlete was merely conforming to Iranian cultural convention, forbidding men from shaking hands with unrelated women.
A spokesman for St. James’s Palace has revealed the Duchess was briefed beforehand and warned not to offer her hand to Mehrdad Karam Zadeh.
“Many male athletes from Islamic countries do not shake hands in public with women they are not related to for cultural and religious reasons,” the palace representative said.
The palace added Kate Middleton was “honored” to get the chance to present the medals, particularly to a British champion in Davies.
It’s not the first time the Iranian custom has caused controversy.
Last year the Iranian volleyball team had to apologize after several team members shook hands with a female referee after a game against Afghanistan.
The gesture provoked outrage and Iran’s state-owned media described the players’ behavior as “stunning and inappropriate”.