IMAGE: Saeid Mollaei, a former judo world champion, fled Iran for Germany after saying Iranian authorities had put strain on him to drop out of the 2019 world championships in Tokyo to keep away from a possible ultimate spherical towards Israeli contender Sagi Muki. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters
An Iranian judoka who fled his nation after ignoring orders to drop out of a match to keep away from dealing with an Israeli is due to compete on Friday in a world tournament in Israel.
Saeid Mollaei, a former judo world champion, fled Iran for Germany after saying Iranian authorities had put strain on him to drop out of the 2019 world championships in Tokyo to keep away from a possible ultimate spherical towards Israeli contender Sagi Muki.
Mollaei, who refused to pull out and reached the semi-final in Tokyo, gained refugee standing in Germany and later turned a citizen of Mongolia, which he’s representing on the International Judo Federation’s Tel Aviv Grand Slam.
“I compete for Mongolia. I don’t compete for Iran … I play sports. I have always been an athlete, never political,” Mollaei instructed Israeli public broadcaster Kan.
Iran, which has refused to recognise Israel since Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, was banned indefinitely from worldwide judo competitors after the Mollaei incident.
Arash Mir Ismaili, head of Iran’s judo federation, instructed the official IRNA information company on Tuesday that Mollaei had “turned (his) back on the ideals of the regime and the country’s goals … which is shameful.”
Muki, who received the world title in Tokyo and is competing in Tel Aviv, posted a photograph on Twitter of the 2 of them smiling collectively, captioned with the phrases “Welcome brother”, and the Israeli, Iranian and Mongolian flags.
Some 421 rivals from 60 nations are competing in the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, organisers mentioned. Competitors arriving from international nations got particular exemptions from a journey ban imposed by Israel in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.