Iranian Judoka Who Defected Meets Israeli Delegation, May Compete in Tel Aviv

Saeid Mollaei, now competing for Mongolia, could make history at Chinese tournament, facing off an Israeli athlete

Itamar Katzir
Itamar Katzir
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Saeid Mollaei during the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, August 28, 2019.
Saeid Mollaei during the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, August 28, 2019.Credit: Kim Kyung Hoon / REUTERS
Itamar Katzir
Itamar Katzir

Is Saeid Mollaei on his way to the Judo Grand Prix competition in Tel Aviv? The Iranian judoka who defected from Iran and is now competing for the Mongolian team met with the Israeli team on Thursday at the Masters competition in Qingdao, China.

Mollaei discussed the possibility of attending the Grand Prix, to be held between January 23 and 25, with the head of the Israeli Judo Association, Moshe Ponte.

Mollaei also spoke with world champion Sagi Muki. The two may meet in Friday’s final or in the bid for the bronze medal in the half-middleweight (under 81 kilogram) category. When Mollaei represented Iran, his country prevented him from competing with Muki or from standing beside him on the podium. Should the two face-off, it will be their first time competing against one another.

Saeid is an amazing person, warm and friendly,” said Ponte. “We had a wonderful conversation and I hope history is made tomorrow when Iranian and Israeli athletes meet in competition. The process we led at the international level has borne nice results.”

Earlier, the Israeli Judo Association announced that the Japanese national team would be attending the Grand Prix. “We got an email today from the strong Japanese team, expressing their desire to participate in the tournament, which attests to the prestige of the event,” said the association. More than 500 judokas are expected to attend, including the world champion in the 90 kilograms category, Dutchman Noel Van ‘t End and the Olympic champion in the 63 kilogram category, Tina Trstenjak.