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Iran’s judo ban for refusing to face Israelis overturned by Court of Arbitration for Sport

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Iran was suspended after it was alleged the country ordered a judoka to lose on purpose to avoid facing an opponent from Israel.

Saeid Mollaei who represented Iran in judo.
Iran’s Saeid Mollaei reacts to being told he lose on purpose to avoid facing an Israeli opponent at the 2019 Judo World Championships.
Photo credit should read CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images

Last Monday the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned a blanket suspension that had been placed on Iran by the International Judo Federation (per New York Times). The IJF had banned Iran from international competition after a pattern of Iranian athletes doing whatever was necessary to avoid facing athletes from Israel.

The original ban was handed down in 2019 after Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei revealed that team officials told him to intentionally lose at during the semi-finals of the World Championships in order to avoid a match-up with Israeli Sagi Muki.

After that tournament Mollaei fled to Germany to seek asylum. Before the Tokyo Olympics were postponed, Mollaei was due to compete under the Olympic’s all refugee team. Mollaei has since gained eligibility to compete for Mongolia at international competition.

Iran prohibits all athletes from facing Israeli’s in competition. The regime believes that facing Israeli in a sporting competition would contradict their stance that Israel, as a state, does not exist.

For decades Iranian athletes have been forced to wriggle out of match-ups with Israeli opponents. Competitors have refused to show up, intentionally missed weight, gotten themselves disqualified and thrown matches. A number of these incidents have happened in the realm of both judo and freestyle wrestling.

Mollaei is thought to be the first athlete to publicly rebuke Iran and the country’s refusal to face Israel. Following his defection, Iran’s only female Olympic gold medallist—taekwondo practitioner Kimia Alizadeh—also defected citing “hypocrisy, lies, injustice and flattery”. Alizadeh was granted refugee status in Germany this year.

When CAS announced they have overturned the IJF’s ban, thus allowing Iran to resume international judo competition, the court agreed that the country had committed “severe violations” of IJF rules. The court advised that sanctions be put in place, but that those should not include a blanket ban on all international competition.

CAS said the IJF “had no legal basis” for that kind of ban.

Iran is now free to send athletes to the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, where there is a high chance they will be drawn against Israeli athletes across multiple sporting disciplines.