02/20/2021, 08.00
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Repudiated by Iran, judoka Saeid Mollaei competes in Israel

In 2019 he lost on government’s orders at the world championships to avoid going up against an Israeli. In exile, he became a refugee in Germany and a citizen in Mongolia. Presently, he is in Tel Aviv, welcomed by the same rival he was supposed to meet. For Sagi Muki, Saied’s presence is “historic”.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo, defending champion Saeid Mollaei revealed that he had lost on purpose in response to threats from the Iran Judo Federation to avoid a contest with an Israeli athlete.

Today, after obtaining political refugee status in Germany and becoming a naturalised Mongolian citizen, the judoka born on 5 January 1992 in Tehran, is taking part in a competition in Israel.

His story was top news in the first months of 2019. In 2018, he won gold in the 81 kg event in Baku, and was preparing for an encore in Japan.

However, on the path to another gold medal, he found a challenger, Israeli Sagi Muki. As in other sports, Iranian judo officials told him to end his competition.

Following threats, he lost in the semi-final against Matthias Casse and, later, fled to Europe where he applied for political asylum saying he feared for his life if he returned to Iran.

After a period competing for the International Judo Federation (IJF) refugee team, he became a Mongolian citizen.

Following the case, the IJF disciplinary commission suspended the Iran Judo Federation for violating the Olympic Charter and IJF rules.

Two years later, Saeid Mollaei is in Israel representing Mongolia in the two-day IJF Grand Slam in Tel Aviv. Local media celebrated his presence calling it “historic.”

His 2019 rival at the  Tokyo Games, Israeli Sagi Muki, also celebrated the event, posting a picture of himself and Saeid on Twitter, with the caption “Welcome brother”.

“This is a great message to the world,” Muki told Israeli radio. “This is something that can even bring Iran closer to Israel. It simply shows how sports can bring together people and break boundaries.”

Iran officials reacted with disdain at the news of Mollaei’s participation in the Tel Aviv competition.

“This is not an honour but a stain of shame on your forehead that will stay with you forever, because you have turned your back on the ideals of the system, on your homeland, and are proud of it,” said Arash Miresmaeili, president of the Iranian Judo Federation.

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