Security separates athlete from his trainer

Iran blames judo chiefs, Israel, as judoka flown to Berlin from Tokyo for asylum

Iran media says head of world Judo Federation conspired with Israel to spirit Saeid Mollaei away; he had been pressured to avoid fighting Israel’s Sagi Muki in world tourney

Saeid Mollaei in 2018 (YouTube screenshot)
Saeid Mollaei in 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

The president of the International Judo Federation reportedly helped spirit an Iranian judoka to Germany following an asylum request after he was pressured by Tehran to throw a match at this week’s World Championship in Tokyo to avoid facing an Israeli opponent.

Marius Vizer confirmed to Japanese media on Saturday that Iranian Saeid Mollaei had arrived safely in Berlin, where he is preparing to file a request for asylum.

The Iran International news channel pointed to Vizer as the mastermind behind the “operation” to whisk Mollaei to Germany in order “to harm Iran for Israel’s sake.”

The network said Vizer had ordered a car with a German security guard to pick up the Iranian judoka from the tournament and take him to the airport. It also claimed that the IJF president had been in touch with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Other Iranian reports said that the IJF dispatched security guards to separate Mollaei from his trainer so that he could be hurried into a waiting private airport escort.

President of the International Judo Federation Marius L. Vizer delivers his welcome address during the opening ceremony of the Judo World Championships in Papp Laszlo Budapest Sports Arena in Budapest, Hungary on August 28, 2017. (Tamas Kovacs/MTI via AP)

“This was a conspiracy of the IJF and Israel,” Iran International reported.

Vizer told Japanese media that Mollaei had approached him and confided that the Iranian government had pressured him to throw his semifinal battle against Belgium’s Matthias Casse in order to avoid facing Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final. Muki went on to win the championship, becoming the first Israeli man to win a World Championship gold. Vizer said Mollaei had relayed that Tehran had even reached out to members of his family to further pressure the judoka to lose on purpose.

Vizer said the IJF intends on allowing Mollaei to compete in the future as a member of the team for international refugees at the 2020 summer Olympics also in Tokyo.

Iran’s Olympic committee is expected to file a complaint to the International Olympic Committee against the IJF’s alleged actions and requesting intervention in the matter.

In the past Iran has forbidden its athletes from competing against Israelis. In May, the IJF said it had reached an agreement with Iran to end the boycott, though the head of Iran’s Olympic committee later denied it.

Mollaei has been accused of faking injuries and intentionally losing fights in the past to avoid facing Muki.

IJA chairman Moshe Ponti, speaking to Army Radio on Thursday, said that an hour before Wednesday’s semifinals, the Israeli team heard that Mollaei, ranked No. 1 in the world, “intended to continue the contest, even if he had to face Sagi Muki at the final. We heard he’d asked the head of the Iranian judo association to ensure his family was kept safe.”

Sagi Muki of Israel reacts after defeating Matthias Casse of Belgium during a men’s -81 kilogram final of the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, August 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Ponti did not blame Mollaei for his actions, saying that though he “had promised the head of the International Judo Federation he would compete… there were people at his family’s home in Iran. You can’t judge an athlete in such a situation.”

Muki on Wednesday said Mollaei was an “excellent” sportsman, while Israel’s team coach Oren Smadja said he was “a terrific guy.”

The notion that Mollaei had thrown his fight with Casse to avoid facing Muki was prevalent in outlets covering the contest.

Cases of Iranians intentionally losing matches to avoid facing Israelis have been reported in the past. Last year an Iranian wrestler was banned for six months for deliberately throwing a match to avoid facing an Israeli opponent.

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