An Iranian fights an Israeli — in a clash that Iran rejected. What’s it all about?

10 June 2021 By Paul Martin

Judoka Saeid Mollaei, who left Iran after being forced to forfeit a match in order to avoid going head-to-head with an athlete from Israel, finally competed against an Israeli on Wednesday — and won.

Mollaei, now competing for Mongolia, was due to face Israeli judoka Din Yaacov Gemer in the under 81-kilogram category at the World Judo Championships in Hungary.

Mollaei revealed that Iranian officials ordered him to throw a match at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo to avoid potentially being obliged to fight Israeli judoka and world champion Sagi Muki.

The Israeli athlete went on to win the gold medal in the competition.

Afterwards Mollaei refused to return to Iran and instead sought asylum in Germany. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year approved his switch to compete for Mongolia and ruled that the change did not require permission from Iranian Olympic officials, because Mollaei was technically a refugee.

In February, Mollaei traveled to Israel to compete in the International Judo Federation’s Tel Aviv Grand Slam, where he won the silver medal. He told reporters after the match: “Israeli people (are) very friendly, and have a good heart.”

The International Judo Federation issued in April a four-year ban against the Iranian Judo Federation because of its discrimination against Israeli athletes. The ban was overturned in March by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, arguing the penalty was too severe.

Watch Saeid Mollaei face Din Yaacov Gemer at the World Judo Championships in the video below.