Israelis give exiled Iranian judoka big embrace as he arrives for tournament

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Iranian-Mongolian judoka Saeid Mollaei (l) and Israeli judoka Sagi Muki (r). (Instagram / Sagi Muki / Screenshot)

Iranian officials forced Mollaei to intentionally lose a match in the semi-finals so he would not face off against Israeli judoka Muki in the finals.

Saeid Mollaei landed in Israel late Sunday evening to compete in the 2021 Tel Aviv Judo Grand Slam tournament, marking a new chapter of a complicated saga involving the once-world champion and the Jewish State.

“I am very happy to be here, I came to compete,” Mollaei told reporters at Ben Gurion Airport. “Everything is safe here, all is good. Now is the time to compete.”

Mollaei, who will be representing Mongolia in the competition, was forced to flee his homeland of Iran in 2019 after revealing that Iranian officials would not allow him to compete against Sagi Muki, an Israeli judoka.

At that time, Mollaei was the reigning world champion, having won the title in 2018.

During the 2019 Judo World Championships in Tokyo, Iranian officials forced Mollaei to intentionally lose a match in the semi-finals so that he would not face off against Muki in the finals.

According to Mollaei, Iranian Olympic Committee president Reza Salehi Amiri called him minutes before the match and said Iranian security officials were outside of his parents’ home in Iran. He insinuated that if Mollaei did not do as he was told, his family would pay the price.

Mollaei intentionally lost the match but refused to return home to Iran after the competition, telling International Judo Federation officials he feared for his life. Instead,
he flew to Germany, where he was granted refugee status. Muki went on to win the World Championship.

After Mollaei spoke out about the incident, Iran was banned from international judo tournaments, and the judokas struck up an unlikely friendship.

Muki posted a photo of the two athletes embracing each other at the Paris Grand Slam tournament in January 2020, captioning it, “Two world champions but before that two good friends… Friends for life!!!”

“I hope that he will come to Israel,” Muki told Channel 12 News in February 2020. “I know he really loves Israel and Israelis. And he really appreciated how our people have welcomed him with such a big embrace,” Muki said.

Mongolia granted Mollaei citizenship in late 2019.

(World Israel News).

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