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Iran blames judo chiefs, Israel, as judoka flown to Berlin from Tokyo for asylum

The president of the International Judo Federation [Marius Vizer – RO] reportedly helped spirit an Iranian judoka to Germany following an asylum request after he was pressured by Tehran to throw a match at this week’s World Championship in Tokyo to avoid facing an Israeli opponent.

Marius Vizer confirmed to Japanese media on Saturday that Iranian Saeid Mollaei had arrived safely in Berlin, where he is preparing to file a request for asylum.

The Iran International news channel pointed to Vizer as the mastermind behind the “operation” to whisk Mollaei to Germany in order “to harm Iran for Israel’s sake.”

The network said Vizer had ordered a car with a German security guard to pick up the Iranian judoka from the tournament and take him to the airport. It also claimed that the IJF president had been in touch with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Other Iranian reports said that the IJF dispatched security guards to separate Mollaei from his trainer so that he could be hurried into a waiting private airport escort.

“This was a conspiracy of the IJF and Israel,” Iran International reported.

Vizer told Japanese media that Mollaei had approached him and confided that the Iranian government had pressured him to throw his semifinal battle against Belgium’s Matthias Casse in order to avoid facing Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final. Muki went on to win the championship, becoming the first Israeli man to win a World Championship gold. Vizer said Mollaei had relayed that Tehran had even reached out to members of his family to further pressure the judoka to lose on purpose.

Vizer said the IJF intends on allowing Mollaei to compete in the future as a member of the team for international refugees at the 2020 summer Olympics also in Tokyo.

In the Sunday interview, Mollaei denied reports that he was seeking asylum, saying he already lived in Germany.

“I’m not moving to Germany. I did not ask for asylum, and I’m not a refugee. I own an apartment in Germany,” he said, according to translations by Hebrew-language media on Sunday.

But the former world champion will no longer represent Iran at international competitions or the Olympics over the prohibition to compete against Israelis.

“After [Israeli judoka] Sagi Muki made the final, Iran put pressure on me to intentionally lose in my semifinal [match against Casse],” he told Iran International.

“But I came to compete for real, not to put on a show…. I will compete in the Olympics under the Olympic flag,” he said.

In the fracas at last week’s championship, the head of the International Judo Federation, Marius Vizer, who has warned Iran in the past against throwing matches to avoid Israelis, reportedly threatened to bar Iran from participating in the Olympics — in any sport — if Mollaei refused to face Muki.

Culture Minister Miri Regev spoke on the phone with Vizer on Sunday and offered any assistance necessary in the situation regarding Mollaei. She also proposed that a special match be organized in which the Iranian and Israeli judokas could face off free of outside pressures.


Header image: Marius Vizer – president of the International Judo Federation with Vladimir Putin – the President of Russia.