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Iran appeals ban from world judo events for avoiding Israeli opponents

Iranian judokas barred from international competition until 2023 after Saeid Mollaei fled country in 2019 over orders to lose matches to avoid competing against Israelis

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei reacts after losing to Belgium's Matthias Casse in the semifinal fight in the men's under-81 kilogram category during the 2019 Judo World Championships in Tokyo, on August 28, 2019. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)
Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei reacts after losing to Belgium's Matthias Casse in the semifinal fight in the men's under-81 kilogram category during the 2019 Judo World Championships in Tokyo, on August 28, 2019. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The Iran judo federation’s appeal against a four-year ban from international events for refusing to let its athletes face opponents from Israel was heard on Tuesday.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said the Iranian appeal against an International Judo Federation ruling was held by video link. A verdict is expected to take at least several weeks.

The judo federation acted against Iran after former world champion Saeid Mollaei left the team and fled the country, saying he was ordered to lose matches at the 2019 world championships to avoid facing Israelis.

Mollaei fled to Germany citing fears for his safety in Iran and later got International Olympic Committee approval to compete for Mongolia. He won a silver medal in the 81-kilogram class at the Tokyo Olympics in July.

He dedicated the medal, his first in an Olympics, to Israel after the win. Mollaei told the Israeli Sports Channel that he was thankful for the support he’s received from Israel over the years.

In February, Mollaei competed at the Grand Slam international judo competition held in Tel Aviv, also taking home the silver, and told CNN that Israel had been “very good to me since I arrived,” adding that the Israeli judo team members “have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”

Israeli world champion judoka Sagi Muki (right) and Iranian champion Saeid Mollaei embrace at the Paris Grand Slam, on February 10, 2020, in an Instagram photo posted online by Muki. (Instagram screenshot)

The International Judo Federation at first imposed an indefinite ban on the Iranian federation until its policy of discrimination was changed. That was overruled at the CAS and the case was sent back to the governing body which settled on a four-year suspension in April.

The provisional ban, which could still be withdrawn if Iranian officials allow their athletes to compete freely, is set to run into September 2023.

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