Iran Banned Indefinitely From International Judo Federation for Boycotting Israelis

Federation says Iran pressured Saeid Mollaei not to fight Sagi Muki ■ Mollaei has since defected to Germany

Itamar Katzir
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Luka Maisuradze of Georgia (top) and Saeid Mollaei of Iran during the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, August 28, 2019.
Luka Maisuradze of Georgia (top) and Saeid Mollaei of Iran during the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, August 28, 2019.Credit: Koji Sasahara,AP
Itamar Katzir

The International Judo Federation (IJF) on Tuesday announced it is suspending Iran for its ongoing boycott of Israeli athletes in general, and specifically for pressuring its judoka, Saeid Mollaei, to withdraw rather than compete against Israeli Sagi Muki at August’s World Championships in Tokyo.

This means that Iranian judokas are suspended from all competitions authorized by the federation and its unions, and are likely to miss the Tokyo Olympics next summer.

Although Iranians have never won an Olympic medal in judo, they were viewed as strong contenders at Tokyo 2020. The ban puts a question mark over their participation because qualifying depends mainly on world ranking points earned in IJF events.

Mollaei fled to Germany following the championship and plans to compete in the Olympics with the global refugee team.

Last month the federation had announced it would take disciplinary measures against Iran, since boycotting Israel is a violation of both federation regulations and those of the International Olympic Committee. The Iran Judo Federation sent an official letter of defense and supporting documents, but its arguments were rejected.

In its letter, the Iranian federation claimed that no pressure was exerted on Mollaei by the Iranian authorities or by the federation for him to withdraw to avoid a possible match against an Israeli athlete. It claimed that the Mollaei’s testimony on the issue was false, and that he had taken these steps to expedite his acquisition of German citizenship.

The Iranians also noted that the current president of the Iranian federation, Arash Miresmaeili, was not president when some of the violations attributed to Iran were allegedly committed (like at the Athens Olympics in 2004 or the Paris Grand Slam in 2019). The federation claims that it is now fully observing the Olympic charter and the regulations of the International Judo Federation.

The international federation categorically rejected these arguments. It noted that Mollaei’s allegations against his own country were confirmed by Abdullo Muradov, a member of the international federation’s Sports Committee, who speaks Farsi.

Muradov was near Mollaei during the Tokyo competition and heard the phone call the judoka got from the Iranian sports minister and a video chat from the Iranian National Olympic Committee’s president asking the athlete not to fight to avoid a contest against the Israeli judoka.

Reuters contributed to this report

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