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Iranian Defector Dedicates Olympic Judo Medal to Israel

July 28, 2021

by: Janet Aslin

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Iranian born judoka Saeid Mollaei at the Asian Games in 2018

Wednesday, 28 July 2021 | When judoka Saeid Mollaei, formerly from Iran, won the silver medal in the men’s 81-kilogram [178-lbs.] division yesterday, he took the opportunity to publicly acknowledge the friendship and support that he has received from Israel. This story actually began when Iran’s totalitarian government demanded he act against his conscience and good sportsmanship and boycott Israel.

For the past twenty years, Israeli athletes and teams have periodically experienced anti-Semitic, anti-Israel hatred as various Muslim countries have refused them entry to international competitions or refused to compete against Israeli athletes. These boycotts have run the gamut from team sports like soccer and basketball to individual ones like judo, swimming, fencing and tennis.

As the top-ranked judoka in his weight class, Mollaei was competing for Iran in the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo when his coaches ordered him to lose a match. The reason? If he won that fight, he would automatically face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki in the finals. And the Iranian regime does not permit any of its athletes to compete against Israel.

Worried for his family, Mollaei deliberately lost the 2019 match. However, within days Mollaei made a public confession and in the firestorm that followed, he fled to Germany. Shortly after his arrival, Mollaei shared in an interview with German publication DW: “But after the World Championships I told the world that I just want to be courageous and live freely. I don’t care whether I am facing a judoka from Israel or any other country. All that counts for me is friendship and the Olympic charter.”

During the two years since his defection from Iran, Mollaei became a Mongolian citizen and now competes under that flag. He has visited the Land of Israel itself, taken part in judo matches there and counts Sagi Muki a close friend. Acknowledging the support he has received from Israel, Mollaei said, “This medal is also dedicated to Israel and I hope the Israelis appreciate this achievement,” i24News reported.

Sadly the 2020 Olympics have not been free from anti-Israel sports boycotts, as judokas from two countries, Sudan and Algeria, have left the games in order to avoid facing Israeli Tohar Butbul. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has promised an investigation. James Macleod, an IOC director, told a press briefing that “clearly if there are flagrant abuses of the Olympic charter, the IOC will take all necessary measures in that respect.”

The tide may be turning in holding nations responsible for their actions in the area of sports. “In April, the International Judo Federation issued a four-year ban against the Iranian Judo Federation over Tehran’s demands that its athletes not face Israeli opponents,” the Times of Israel reported.

Saeid Mollaei’s willingness to make public the dictates of the brutal Iranian regime in 2019 and his friendship with Israel have played a part in the ongoing efforts to remove hatred and discrimination from the sports playing field.

Posted on July 28, 2021

Source: (Bridges for Peace, July 28, 2021)

Photo Credit: Amir Hosseini/Fars News Agency/commons.wikimedia.org

Photo License: wikimedia.org

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