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Iran banned from judo for instructing athlete to withdraw rather than face Israel opponent

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Iran has been banned from international judo for instructing one of its athletes to withdraw from August’s world championships rather than face an Israeli judoka.

The International Judo Federation said Iran authorities instructing Saeid Mollaei to withdraw rather than face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki was “a serious breach and gross violation” of its code of ethics and the Olympic Charter.

IJF spokesman Vlad Marinescu said any ban won’t apply to the Tokyo Olympics. That’s because it’s the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the Iranian Judo Federation, which formally enters the Olympic team.

“We have been informed by IJF that they will launch a proper procedure giving all concerned parties the right to be heard,” an International Olympic Committee spokesperson said. “Should the issue become an Olympic issue we will take the result of this procedure into consideration.”

An IJF disciplinary commission said it “has a strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct” given its history of similar actions with its athletes potentially facing Israelis.

Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, said he was afraid to return to Iran after disobeying those orders at worlds. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with Muki.

“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 recognize. The IJF has said Iranians have thrown matches and used “questionable injuries” to avoid competing against Israelis.

Mollaei’s case came 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.”

Back in August, 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 criticized 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 exercise salon,” 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: Israel, judo federation hail letter from Iran; Tehran silent

China’s Olympic men’s basketball streak in danger; Iran, Nigeria qualify for Tokyo

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China sent a men’s basketball team to every Olympics from 1984 through 2016. Its streak is in danger of being snapped.

China lost to Nigeria 86-73 in its last FIBA World Cup game on Sunday. That means Iran claimed the lone Asian Olympic qualifying spot available at the tournament, after the Iranians beat the Philippines 95-75, also Sunday.

China will get a last chance to qualify to play at its 10th straight Olympics at a tournament next year, where it likely must go through a higher-ranked European nation.

Nigeria’s win meant that the D’Tigers are going to their third straight Olympics. Nigeria needed to beat China to overtake Tunisia for the lone African Olympic berth available at the World Cup.

Nigeria, which went 1-4 at its two Olympics in 2012 and 2016, has a roster that includes current and former NBA players Al-Farouq Aminu, Josh Okogie and Ike Diogu.

Iran goes to its first Olympics since going winless in 2008, when it qualified with a boost by not having to better host nation China. Its roster is led by former Memphis Grizzlies 7-footer Hamed Haddadi.

Iran and Nigeria join Australia and Japan as the first four teams in the 12-team Olympic field. Four more nations will qualify for the Olympics at this month’s World Cup — two from the Americas and two from Europe.

The last four will be determined next year at those last-chance qualifying tournaments.

Only Australia has played in more consecutive Olympic men’s basketball tournaments on the active list than China.

China and the U.S. each played in every tournament starting with the 1984 Los Angeles Games. China didn’t participate in the Summer Olympics at all from 1956 through 1980. The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Moscow Games.

China lost 12 straight Olympic contests dating to when it hosted the 2008 Beijing Games. Now-retired Yao Ming led the team in 2000, 2004 and 2008, but the nation has never reached an Olympic semifinals.

Yao, now president of China’s basketball federation, was reportedly asked who was responsible for this failure. “Me,” he replied to end the brief interview.

Fellow former NBA big man Yi Jianlian is the new elder statesman, at 31 years old and perhaps on his way to a fifth Olympics. In 2004, Yi played at age 16. He remains the youngest man to play Olympic basketball since 1948.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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Iran judo champ afraid to go home after disobeying order to withdraw from worlds to avoid Israel opponent

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TOKYO (AP) — A 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 said late Sunday that Saeid 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 didn’t appear to be a boycott of Israel.

Mollaei kept competing but eventually lost in the semifinals 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 recognize. 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 criticized 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 exercise salon,” 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.

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MORE: Israel, judo federation hail letter from Iran; Tehran silent