Iranian Judoka Tells Israeli Counterpart: 'You're My Best Friend'

Saeid Mollaei, who defected after Iranian authorities pressured him not to compete against Israeli Sagi Muki, competed on Saturday for the first time since his receiving refugee status

Sagi Muki congratulates Iranian defector Saeid Mollaei on his first competition on a refugee team.
Nir Keidar

Israeli judo champ Sagi Muki and Saeid Mollaei, the Iranian judoka who applied for asylum in August after Iranian authorities pressured him not to compete against Muki, continue to show public support for each other.

On Saturday, Molaei competed for the first time since his defection to Germany at the Osaka Grand Slam competition in Japan as a member of the International Judo Federation's refugee team. That prompted Sagiv to congratulate the Iranian on Instagram, who in response called the Israeli his best friend.

Saeid Mollaei's Instagram comment.

"I would like to congratulate Saeid Mollaei who competed today as part of the Grand Slam Osaka Refugee Team. This is a triumph of sports over politics. Thank you to the Israeli Judo, World and Olympics Association for their support," the Israeli judoka wrote on Instagram.

In response, in somewhat broken English, but in which the meaning was clear, Mollaei wrote: "Hi muki very very thank you and good luck for you all time my bset frend."

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In August, Iranian authorities applied pressure on Mollaei to deliberately lose the semi-finals of the World Judo Championships in Tokyo so that he wouldn't face Muki in the finals. There were also reports that he was forced to lose in the competition for the bronze medal so that he would share a medal podium with the Israeli, who won the gold.

Following the competition, Mollaei sought asylum in Germany. The World Judo Federation suspended Iran from international competitions over Mollaei's case until it drops its boycott of Israel.