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Iran gets four-year world judo ban for avoiding Israeli athletes

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Iranian athletes are routinely forced to lose on purpose or get disqualified to avoid being matched-up against athletes from Israel.

Saeid Mollaei who represented Iran in judo.
Saeid Mollaei after he was ordered to lose on purpose at the 2019 World Championships.
Photo credit should read CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images

This week the International Judo Federation handed down a four-year ban on Iran, prohibiting the country from fielding athletes in international judo competition. The four-year ban was instituted after the IJF’s indefinite ban was struck down after an appeal made to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

This new ban is back-dated to 2019, so it will not prevent Iran from sending judokas to the Tokyo Olympics.

Iran has a long history of forcing their athletes to do whatever is necessary to avoid facing Israeli athletes on the sporting field. This includes having athletes lose on purpose, forfeit matches and get disqualified. Recently these incidents have mostly occurred in both judo and wrestling.

The reason for this is thought to be based on Iran’s belief that Israel does not exist as a legitimate state. Therefore, as far as Iran is concerned, having their national athletes appear opposite athletes representing Israel would contradict this stance.

In August 2019 this issue came into focus at the World Championships in Tokyo. Saeid Mollaei, who was representing Iran at that competition, had progressed to the semi-finals in the 81 kg category where he faced Matthias Casse of Belgium.

Waiting for Mollaei in the final was Sagi Muki of Israel. Mollaei lost the match to Casse, but not on purpose. Mollaei said he tried to get to the final despite his coaches ordering him to lose. Mollaei claimed that his coaches had received calls from Iran’s Sport Minister and a member of Iran’s National Olympic Committee telling him that Mollaei must not make it to the final. It is claimed that in one of those calls Mollaei’s coach was told that Iranian National Security officers had visited Mollaei’s parents’ house.

After this incident Mollaei was granted asylum in Germany over fears he would be persecuted in Iran. Mollaei then competed on the IJF’s all-refugee team at the 2019 Osaka Grand Slam.

A few months later Mollaei was offered Mongolian citizenship, which he accepted. The offer was made by Mongolia’s President Khaltmaagiin Battuga, who is also the chairman of the Mongolian Judo Federation.

In 2020 Mollaei represented Mongolia at a Grand Slam event in Hungary, where he won a bronze medal. This February Mollaei competed at the Tel Aviv Grand Prix in Israel. Mollaei will represent Mongolia at the Tokyo Olympics. In preparation for the Olympics Mollaei is due to spend time training in Israel with the Israeli national team.