An Iranian defector who won an Olympic silver medal in judo bucked the trend on Tuesday, dedicating his medal to Israel and thanking the country in Hebrew for his second-place finish in the men’s 81kg judo final.
Saeid Mollaei “dedicated his first-ever Olympic medal to Israel and thanked the country for the support they have given him after a nail-biting final,” the Daily Mail reported Tuesday afternoon.
“The judo world champion, who trained in Israel with their national judo team in the months before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, thanked the country in Hebrew as he dedicated his first-ever Olympic medal to Israel.”
“‘Thank you to Israel for the good energy,” Mollaei reportedly told the Israeli Sports Channel after losing the final match to a Japanese athlete.
“This medal is dedicated
also to Israel.”
Mollaei now competes for Mongolia after defecting to Germany during the 2019 Judo World Championships. Despite being one of the team’s up-and-coming stars, he left the Iranian team after Iran’s minister demanded that he withdraw from a judo match rather than spar with an Israeli athlete — something at least two competitors have done this Olympics alone.
The Israeli competitor he was ordered not to touch, Sagi Muki, also competed in Tokyo but was eliminated early on after losing to a competitor from Austria. He had only praise for Mollaei, calling him his “close friend” and praising him for “achieving his dream.”
As The Daily Wire reported Monday, at least two athletes have withdrawn from judo competitions in Tokyo rather than face an Israeli athlete.
“Algeria’s Fetih Nourine withdrew from competition on Saturday rather than have to face Israel’s Tohar Butbul, who ended up finishing in 7th place after losing to an athlete from South Korea. Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalarasool did not show up to compete against Butbul during a scheduled match on Monday,” The Daily Wire noted.
Nourine and his coach earned a temporary suspension from international competition for the display, but Nourine claimed “God will compensate” him for believing the “Palestinian cause is bigger” than an Olympic medal.
“We have worked hard to qualify for the Games, but the Palestinian cause is bigger than
all that,” he said. “My position is consistent on the Palestinian issue, and I reject normalisation, and if it cost me that absence from the Olympic Games, God will compensate.”
“We were unlucky with the draw, an Israeli opponent came out and that’s why we had to withdraw, we made the right decision,” Nourine’s coach, Amar Benijlef told an Algerian television network, per Middle East Eye. “We have worked hard to qualify for the Games, but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all that.”
Mollaei’s presence in international competition has, recently, been enough to cause ire in Iran. After Mollaei represented his new home country of Mongolia at a competition in Israel earlier this year, the “President of the Iranian Judo Federation Arash Miresmaeili expressed regret that ‘a foolish athlete’ and ‘hollow champion who only thinks of his personal interests has gone to Tel Aviv and is proud of it,’” according to the Daily Mail.
“This is not an honour but a stain of shame on your forehead that will stay with you forever, because you have turned your back on the ideals of the system, on your homeland, and are proud of it,” Miresmaeili said.