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Top sports court overturns Iran’s judo ban issued over refusal to face Israelis

Court of Arbitration for Sport says Iran ‘committed severe violations’ of discrimination rules but suspension too harsh; Iranian judo body hails ‘great legal and sporting victory’

Uzbekistan's Bekmurod Oltiboev, in white, competes against Iran's Javad Mahjoub during their men's +100 kg judo bronze medal match at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 31, 2018. (AP/Dita Alangkara)
Uzbekistan's Bekmurod Oltiboev, in white, competes against Iran's Javad Mahjoub during their men's +100 kg judo bronze medal match at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 31, 2018. (AP/Dita Alangkara)

Iran’s suspension from international judo events for refusing to let its athletes fight Israeli opponents was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Monday.

The case was prompted by former world champion Saeid Mollaei leaving the Iranian team in 2019, claiming he was ordered to lose matches and withdraw from competitions to avoid facing Israelis.

CAS said its judges hearing the Iranian judo federation’s appeal decided the International Judo Federation overstepped its authority with such a severe ban, which was imposed in October 2019. The case was sent back to an IJF disciplinary panel for review.

The court acknowledged that the Iranian judo federation had “committed severe violations of the IJF rules” on discrimination and should be punished, though within the world governing body’s rules.

During the case, the IJF said any action taken against Iran would not apply directly to the Tokyo Olympics, because athletes are technically entered by the Iranian Olympic Committee and not the international judo body.

The Iranian judo federation hailed the lifting of its suspension as a “great legal and sporting victory.”

The Iranian federation said it hoped the decision would lead to an “improvement” in relations with the International Judo Federation.

The IJF had accused Iranian government officials of putting pressure on athletes including Mollaei, who later fled to Germany.

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 Olympic Committee last year approved Mollaei’s switch to compete for Mongolia. The IOC said the change did not need permission from Iranian Olympic officials because the judoka was technically a refugee.

Earlier this month, Mollaei traveled to Israel to compete in a Judo Grand Slam competition held in Tel Aviv.

While in the Jewish state, he told Israel’s Kan TV: “I’m competing only for Mongolia. I no longer compete for Iran. That part is over for me… I’ve always been a sportsman. I’ve never engaged in politics.”

Winning the silver medal at the competition, Mollaei said Israel had been “very kind. That is something I will never forget.”

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