Iranian Judoka says Israeli kindness ‘something I’ll never forget’ after taking silver in Tel Aviv bout

Iran's Saeid Mollaei attends the Baku 2017 4th Islamic Solidarity Games Men's Judo -81 kilos event podium ceremony at the Heydar Aliyev Arena in Baku, on May 14, 2017


Iranian Judoka Saeid Mollaei, who fled his country in 2019 after claiming government officials in Tehran pressured him into throwing a tournament to avoid facing an Israeli competitor, has won a silver medal in an international competition held in Tel Aviv on Friday.

Mollaei, a 2018 judo world champion, escaped to Germany where he was granted asylum after claiming he was coerced by Iranian officials to lose the World Judo Championship in Toky before facing off against Israeli Sagi Muki on August 28.

He was later granted Mongolian citizenship, which he represented at the International Judo Federation’s Tel Aviv Grand Slam on Friday.

“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,” Mollaei told Israeli public broadcaster Kan News after the event.

Mollaei arrived in Tel Aviv earlier this week and was transferred to a so-called “coronavirus hotel” for a short isolation period.

Fighting in the under 81 kg (178.5 lbs) category, Mollaei holds two world medals including bronze and gold. The Iranian refugee earned the silver medal on Friday after losing to Uzbekistan’s Sahrofiddin Boltaboev.

Ahead of his second-place finish, Mollaei thanked Israel for its hospitality and support while speaking to CNN, stating the country has been “very good to me since I arrived,”

He added the Israeli judo team “have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”