Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, who fled his country after ignoring orders to drop out of a match to avoid facing an Israeli, on Friday won a silver medal at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam after losing to his competitor in the final round.
Mollaei arrived in Israel on Sunday night for the tournament, in which he represented Mongolia.
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 of 2019.
His change of nationality to Mongolia from refugee status was approved by the International Olympic Committee in March of 2020.
Mollaei beat competitors from Azerbaijan and Italy to advance to the Grand Slam finals, but lost to Uzebkistan’s Sharofiddin Boltaboev, who snatched the gold medal at the men’s under 81 kg category, according to Haaretz.
Audience members at the contest cheered and applauded after Mollaei’s wins, and he received warm support from Israeli fans and officials, including president of Israel Judo Association, Moshe Ponte.
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.
Iran had forced Mollaei to throw a match even though the IJF and Iran reached an agreement which stipulates that Iran will no longer boycott competitions against Israelis.
Source: Arutz Sheva