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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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Japan Olympic legends to start Tokyo 2020 torch relay in Greece

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Japanese Olympic gold medalists Mizuki Noguchi (marathon), Tadahiro Nomura (judo) and Saori Yoshida (wrestling) will be among the torchbearers for the Tokyo 2020 torch relay’s first eight days in Greece in March.

Noguchi will be the first Japanese torchbearer and second overall, receiving the Olympic Flame from a Greek during the traditional lighting ceremony in Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, on March 12.

The Olympic Flame will spend eight days in Greece before being flown to Japan to start a 121-day trek leading to the July 24 Opening Ceremony. The Japanese part of the relay begins in the tsunami-affected prefecture of Fukushima.

Noguchi won the 2004 Athens Olympic marathon that began in Marathon and ended at the Panathenaic Stadium used for the first modern Olympics in 1896.

Nomura is the only judoka with three Olympic gold medals, winning the lightest male division (60kg or 132 pounds) in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

The wrestler Yoshida is also a three-time Olympic champion, plus a 13-time world champion between 53kg and 55kg. She retired after being dethroned by American Helen Maroulis in a bid for a fourth gold in Rio.

Others to be the first host-nation athletes to carry the Olympic Flame in Olympia included South Korean soccer player Park Ji-sung, Brazilian volleyball player Giovane Gavio and Russian hockey player Alex Ovechkin.

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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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