Iran’s judo federation calls ban over Israel boycott policy ‘unfair’
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Iran’s judo federation calls ban over Israel boycott policy ‘unfair’

Tehran says it will appeal its suspension by judo governing body, says athlete who broke silence about match-throwing to avoid Israel’s world champ ‘intensified problem’

In this picture taken on August 28, 2019, Iran's Saeid Mollaei (in white) fights against Belgium's Matthias Casse during the semifinal of the men's under-81kg category during the 2019 Judo World Championships, in Tokyo, Japan. (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
In this picture taken on August 28, 2019, Iran's Saeid Mollaei (in white) fights against Belgium's Matthias Casse during the semifinal of the men's under-81kg category during the 2019 Judo World Championships, in Tokyo, Japan. (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Iran’s judo federation called its suspension from international competition this week “unfair” and said it “was a pre-planned scenario,” the country’s state media reported.

“I believe that suspending Iran’s judo was a pre-planned scenario and unfortunately one of our athletes got involved and intensified” the problem, the official IRNA news outlet quoted the head of Iran’s judo federation Arash Miresmaeili as saying on Wednesday.

The International Judo Federation (IJF) said this week it was banning Iran from competition for allegedly ordering a judoka to lose at the world championships to avoid facing an Israeli competitor.

Saeid Mollaei, who entered last month’s event in Tokyo as the reigning world champion in the under-81 kilogram class, said he was ordered to throw his semifinal rather than risk facing an Israeli in the final.

The IJF said Mollaei had been pressured to lose by Iranian deputy sports minister Davar Zani. Mollaei was also reportedly pressured to bow out by Iranian Olympic Committee president Reza Salehi Amiri, who told him minutes before his semifinal match that Iranian security services were at his parents’ house in Tehran.

In this photo taken Sept. 12, 2019, Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei poses for a portrait photo at an undisclosed southern city of Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The IJF said an official from the Iranian embassy in Tokyo pretending to be a coach gained access to a restricted area to coerce the 27-year-old Tehran native to lose the match as he warmed up on the sidelines.

Mollaei told the IJF that he bowed to the pressure and deliberately lost to Belgian Matthias Casse, who in turn lost to Sagi Muki of Israel in the final.

He fled to Berlin after the championships, where he was hoping to secure a place at the 2020 Olympic games.

Iran’s judo federation is accused of discriminating against Israeli athletes and breaking rules over manipulating competition results.

Iran does not recognize Israel as a country, and Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis. Iranian passports remind holders in bold red they are “not entitled to travel to occupied Palestine.”

Sagi Muki of Israel, top, competes against Matthias Casse of Belgium during a men’s -81 kilogram final of the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

One of the most famous cases was Miresmaeili himself, a two-time judo world champion who showed up overweight for his bout against an Israeli at the Olympics in Athens in 2004 and was disqualified.

He was praised by Iran’s then-president Mohammad Khatami and the ultraconservative media and eventually made his way to become the judo federation’s chief.

Miresmaeili told Iranian media at the time he would refuse to fight an Israeli as a gesture of support for Palestine.

According to him, the current ban on the federation is “outside the usual procedure” as the disciplinary committee reviewing the case should have temporarily suspended Iran until reviews were complete and Iran had time to present its defense.

Belgium’s Matthias Casse (in blue) celebrates winning the semifinal fight against Iran’s Saeid Mollaei in the men’s under-81 kilogram category during the 2019 Judo World Championships in Tokyo on August 28, 2019. (Charly Triballeau/AFP)

“The letter we received today violated all these” considerations, Miresmaeili said.

Iran will “diplomatically follow up” on the issue and hopes to win this “unequal war,” he added.

The IJF specified the Iranian Judo Federation may appeal this decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within 21 days.

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