Iranian judo defector dedicates Olympic medal to Israel
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Iranian judo defector dedicates Olympic medal to Israel

Saeid Mollaei, who fled Iran after being ordered to avoid facing an Israeli, thanks the Jewish state for its 'good energy'

Michael Daventry is foreign editor of Jewish News

Judoka Saeid Mollaei (Screenshot via Times of Israel)
Judoka Saeid Mollaei (Screenshot via Times of Israel)

An Iranian judoka ordered to avoid facing an Israeli opponent by intentionally losing his match has dedicated his latest medal to Israel.

The message from Saeid Mollaei, who won silver at the Tokyo Olympics this week, came as athletes from two other Muslim countries appeared to drop out of the competition after being drawn against an Israeli challenger.

Neither Algeria’s Fetih Nourine nor Mohamed Abdalrasool from Sudan appeared for their matches after being scheduled to face Israel’s Tohar Butbul.

Nourine was suspended by the International Judo Federation but there was no immediate response on Abdalrasool, whose team told Butbul he had a shoulder injury.

The apparent boycotts were a reminder of the Iranian athlete Saeid Mollaei, who was pressured at the World Judo Championships in 2019.

He had to flee Iran and seek refuge in Europe after being ordered to lose and avoid facing an Israeli opponent.

Israeli judoka Sagi Muki, right, and Iranian champion Saeid Mollaei embrace at the Paris Grand Slam, February 10, 2020, in an Instagram photo posted online by Muki. (Instagram screen capture via Times of Israel)

Mollaei, who went on to become a citizen of Mongolia, won a silver medal this week for his adoptive country at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after several months training in Israel.

“Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel. I hope the Israelis are happy with this win.”

He added a word of thanks in Hebrew —“Todah” — in an interview with the Israeli Sports Channel.

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