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Iranian judoka to represent new country in Olympics

The former world champion in judo who fled Iran last year in a dispute over competing against Israelis has been cleared to represent a new nation ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

Saeid Mollaei’s change of nationality to Mongolia from refugee status was approved by the International Olympic Committee, according to the report.

Mollaei’s switch did not need permission from Iranian Olympic officials, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.

Mollaei made headlines after he ignored Iranian officials’ demands to withdraw from the World Judo Championships in order to avoid competing against an Israeli. After losing in the semifinals of the competition – a result he says was affected by the emotional stress caused by the Iran officials request – he travelled to Germany to begin the process of applying for asylum.

He was recognized as a refugee in Germany in November.

In response to Iran’s boycott of Israeli athletes, the International Judo Federation (IJF) banned Iran from all international competitions, saying the ban will be in effect “until the Iran Judo Federation gives strong guarantees and prove that they will respect the IJF Statutes and accept that their athletes fight against Israeli athletes”.

Iran’s judo federation blasted the ban, saying it was based on “false claims”.

Iran does not recognize Israel and its athletes usually refrain from facing Israeli opponents.

In 2010, an Iranian contestant withdrew from a Taekwondo match against Israel’s Gili Haimovitz, who won a gold medal by default.

In 2012, Iranian athletes announced their intention to boycott competitions against Israelis at the London Olympics.

Three years ago, two Iranian players were criticized in their home country after they appeared for their Greek club Panionios in a Europa League qualifier against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Iran forced Mollaei to throw a match even though the IJF and Iran reached an agreement in May which stipulates that Iran will no longer boycott competitions against Israelis.

The Iranian judo body has an April 8 appeal hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the IJF’s decision to ban it.