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Judo world champion granted Mongolian citizenship after fleeing Iran

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A judo world champion from Iran who went into hiding after disobeying orders to withdraw from August’s world championships to avoid a potential Israeli opponent has been granted Mongolian citizenship, according to the International Judo Federation.

Saeid Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, can compete in Olympic qualifying events under his new flag.

Mollaei walked off the Iranian team in August, saying he had been ordered by the government to lose matches and withdraw from competitions so as not to face Israelis. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with an Israeli, then fled to Germany.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF in September. “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.”

In October, Iran was banned indefinitely from international judo competitions for refusing to let its athletes fight Israeli opponents.

Mollaei remained eligible to compete as part of a refugee team before the switch to Mongolia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Iran banned from world judo until it agrees to face Israel

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Iran was banned from international judo competitions Tuesday for refusing to let its athletes fight Israeli opponents.

The International Judo Federation imposed an indefinite ban on Iran’s team until it promises to end a long-running boycott of Israel.

The IJF’s disciplinary commission said the ban will stand “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.”

The commission said Iran broke rules on non-discrimination and the manipulation of competition results.

The ruling comes after 2018 World champion Saeid Mollaei walked off the Iranian team in August, saying he had been ordered to lose matches and withdraw from competitions so as not to face Israelis.

The IJF accused Iranian government officials of putting pressure on athletes including Mollaei, who is now in hiding in Germany. Iran has already missed some events because it was provisionally suspended last month pending the full disciplinary ruling.

The IJF has previously said any measures taken against Iran won’t apply directly to next year’s Olympics, because athletes are technically entered by the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the national judo federation.

However, qualifying for the Olympics depends in large part on world ranking points from IJF events.

Iran can appeal the IJF ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The measure comes at a time when the International Olympic Committee is pushing back against boycotts and other political demonstrations in sports.

In June, IOC President Thomas Bach criticized governments who “clearly abuse sport for their political purposes,” noting a case in May of a Tunisian court blocking four Israelis from competing at the world junior taekwondo championships.

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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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