Judo bosses stand by Iranian who defied order to shun Israeli opponent
Saeid Mollaei was ordered by ministers to leave the world championships, ostensibly to avoid a later match with an Israeli.
A former judo world champion from Iran is afraid to return home after disobeying orders from the government to withdraw from the world championships in Tokyo to avoid a potential bout against an Israeli opponent.
The International Judo Federation saidJudoid Mollaei was ordered to withdraw from last week’s competition by Iranian deputy sports minister Davar Zani.
The IJF said Mollaei was then called by Iranian Olympic Committee president Reza Salehi Amiri, who said security services were at his parents’ house.
Mollaei was the defending champion and could have faced Israeli athlete Sagi Muki in the final.
They were the two top-ranked athletes in their class prior to the world championships.
Mollaei said he was ordered to withdraw ahead of a preliminary bout against a Russian so it did not appear to be a boycott of Israel.
Mollaei kept competing but eventually lost in the semi-finals and did not have to face Muki, who won gold and later called Mollaei “an inspiration”.
“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF.
“I live in a country whose law does not permit me to.
“We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.
“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”
The IJF said it would help Mollaei prepare for next year’s Olympics, also in Tokyo.
If Iran refuses to enter him, one option could be the International Olympic Committee-backed team of refugee athletes.
Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis, which the country does not recognise.
Everything was set in advance to put Mollaei against a participant from (Israel) Iranian team manager
The IJF has said Iranians have thrown matches and used “questionable injuries” to avoid competing against Israelis.
Mollaei’s case comes four months after judo officials hailed a breakthrough in relations with Iran, publishing a letter signed by Salehi Amiri pledging to “fully respect the Olympic charter and its non-discrimination principle”.
On Saturday, Iranian sports minister Masoud Soltanifar accused the IJF of trying to “create problems” with Mollaei, the Irna news agency reported.
He said Iran will send a protest letter to the IOC.
Iranian team manager Majid Zareian also criticised the IJF, saying “everything was set in advance to put Mollaei against a participant from (Israel)”.
“They did not allow me to be present next to my athlete in the exercise salon,” Mr Zareian said.
“After the competitions they changed hotel of Mollaei without my permission, against the regulations.”
He denied reports Iranian authorities had put pressure on Mollaei.