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Judo champion who fled Iran over Israel fight gets new Olympic nationality

Saeid Mollaei, who was forced to throw fight against Israel’s Sagi Muki, will be representing Mongolia at summer Olympics

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei at an undisclosed southern city of Germany, September 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei at an undisclosed southern city of Germany, September 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland  — The former world champion in judo who fled Iran last year in a dispute over competing against Israelis has been cleared to represent a new nation ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Saeid Mollaei’s change of nationality to Mongolia from refugee status was approved Tuesday by the International Olympic Committee.

Mollaei’s switch did not need permission from Iranian Olympic officials, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.

The 2018 world champion went into hiding in Germany after defying Iranian team orders to lose intentionally during the defense of his title. Mollaei claimed he was ordered to avoid facing Sagi Muki, a high-ranked opponent from Israel.

Iran has not recognized Israel for more then 40 years and enforces a policy of boycotting competitions against its athletes.

Israeli world champion 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)

The International Judo Federation suspended Iran’s national federation in October until it received assurances to let its judokas accept bouts with Israeli opponents.

The Iranian judo body has an April 8 appeal hearing against the IJF at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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