09/02/2019, 11.23
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Judo World Cup: Iranian champion loses ‘on purpose’ to avoid Israeli in the final

High officials of the Islamic Republic put pressure on the defending champion Saeid Mollaei. The athlete lost semifinal and final to take the bronze medal. In the past, Iranian champions lost their challenges to avoid encountering Israeli rivals. Possible sanctions from the International Federation.


Tehran (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Pressure from high Iranian government officials to lose the semifinal and the subsequent final for third and fourth place. The purpose? Avoid meeting an Israeli athlete in the final. This is what Saeid Mollaei, the 2018 world judo champion in the 81 kg category, declared yesterday confirming recent rumors surrounding his fights.

"I lost on purpose, 100%," said the 27-year-old judoka and Iran International, a news desk linked to the internal opposition and based in London. "(Reza) Salehi Amiri [president of the Iranian Olympic Committee] called me first and then (Mohammad Reza) Davarzani [Deputy Minister of Sport]. Both told me not to fight. But make sure that the International Federation does not notice it - added Mollaei - and there will be no problems".

The competition ended with the final victory of the Israeli Sagi Muki. To make the defeat in the semifinals credible, the Iranian champion also lost the bronze medal challenge. This defeat was orchestrated to avoid the hypothesis of sharing the podium with the Israeli rival and on a lower step.

A similar version of events was also provided by the head coach of the Israeli team Moshe Fonti. Asked by the Times of Israel, he stated that "Iranian service agents" met the judoka to "warn" him of losing the following rounds of the competition.

Moreover, what has happened is not a new fact: in 2017 the coach of the judoka Alireza Karimi was caught shouting "you have to lose" to his athlete, to avoid the subsequent challenge with an Israeli. And last February, in the quarter-finals of a tournament in Paris, the same Mollaei (reigning world champion) was beaten by a modest Kazakh after only 18 seconds. The reason? In the next round, in the semifinals, he would have met Israeli Sagi Muki.

Originally from Tehran, Mollaei left Tokyo where the World Championships took place and is currently in Berlin, Germany. "I have been here - he explained - for a few days. I was not well, because a world medal is the dream of every athlete. I took refuge here to avoid clamor and I asked the International Federation to help me participate in the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020”. A request that has already met with a favorable opinion of the top sports organizations, who reserve the right to evaluate under which flag to compete.

The judoka concluded the interview saying he was "sorry" for not being able to compete (in all probability) with the national team. For its part, the semi-official Iranian agency Farsa has accused Mollaei of having planned his defection "with the help of someone" in the country. Meanwhile, the International Federation is evaluating possible sanctions against Iran for exerting pressure - if not intimidation - against the judoka and his family.

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