Judo Federation Suspends Iran After It Banned Athlete From Competing Against Israeli

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Saeid Moullaei at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam in February.
Saeid Moullaei at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam in February.Credit: Israeli Judo Federation / Reuters

The International Judo Federation announced on Thursday it suspended the Iran Judo Federation from all activities until 2023, after it banned one of its athletes from competing in the World Cup semi-final to avoid facing off an Israeli competitor.

Saeid Mollaei, a 2018 judo world champion, said Iranian authorities had put pressure on him to drop out of the 2019 world championships in Tokyo to avoid a potential final round against Israeli contender Sagi Muki.

Mollaei, who refused to pull out and reached the semi-final in Tokyo, gained refugee status in Germany and later became a citizen of Mongolia, which he represented at the International Judo Federation's Tel Aviv Grand Slam, where he won a silver medal.

"I compete for Mongolia. I don't compete for Iran ... I play sports. I have always been an athlete, never political," Mollaei told Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

The international body's Disciplinary Committee has ruled that the Iranian federation's "scheme" was in violation of "principles that are of paramount importance as they form part of the Fundamental Principles of Olympism."

In 2019, Mollaei brought a petition to the The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against Iran, but Iran was acquitted of all charges. In October 2019, the International Judo Federation banned Iran from all its competitions.

The International Judo Federation stated that it "continues to defend the fundamental human values and rights of all its members, with a special emphasis on the rights of athletes and reiterates its commitment to fight against any form of discrimination in the sport of Judo."

Iran, which has refused to recognize Israel since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, was banned indefinitely from international judo competition after the Mollaei incident.

Arash Mir Ismaili, head of Iran's judo federation, told the official IRNA news agency that Mollaei had "turned (his) back on the ideals of the regime and the country's goals ... which is shameful."

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