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Saeid Mollaei, an Iranian defector who took Olympic silver in men’s 81kg judo Tuesday, dedicated his medal to Israel, where he trained for the Tokyo Olympics.
“Thank you to Israel for all the good energy – this medal is dedicated to you as well and I hope Israel is happy with this victory, today,” he said after his final match, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Mollaei, the world champion in 2018, left his home country and went into hiding in 2019 after blowing the whistle on Iranian leaders who he said ordered him to throw the World Judo Championships in Tokyo to avoid the possibility of facing Israeli Sagi Muki.
Saeid Mollaei of Mongolia celebrates with his silver medal during the award ceremony for the men -81kg judo match at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
Mollaei, 29, and Muki, 25, have since become friends, and Mollaei said in March that he hoped to face Muki in the Olympic finals, according to his bio on the Tokyo Olympics website.
Muki was knocked out of the Games in the quarterfinals earlier in the day, but he told Israeli media he was proud of the man who took silver.
“[Mollaei] is a very close friend of mine, and I know what he went through to get here,” he said, according to the Post. “He deserves it. He is inspiring.”
The International Judo Federation suspended Iran for four years over its state-enforced anti-Semitism. The government refused to allow its fighters to face Israelis.
The IJF called Iran’s policy “a serious breach and gross violation of the statutes of the IJF, its legitimate interests, its principles and objectives” – and denied Iran’s appeal of its suspension in April.
From left, silver medalist Saeid Mollaei of Mongolia, gold medalist Takanori Nagase of Japan, bronze medalists Shamil Borchashvili of Austria and Matthias Casse of Belgium celebrate during the award ceremony for the men -81kg judo match at the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
It’s not the first time that sort of discrimination has appeared in the judo world.
Last week, Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics rather than potentially face a matchup with Israel’s Tohar Butbul in the 73kg division. He had also quit the 2019 world championship tournament to avoid the same matchup.
The IJF responded by suspending Nourine and his coach, Amar Beniklhef, this week.
Takanori Nagase of Japan, at left shakes hand with Saeid Mollaei of Mongolia after defeating him to win the men -81kg final of the judo match at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, July 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
“Judo sport is based on a strong moral code, including respect and friendship, to foster solidarity and we will not tolerate any discrimination, as it goes against the core values and principles of our sport,” the IJF said.
Nourine was set to face Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalarasool, and whoever won was expected to face Butbul.
Abdalarasool failed to show up for the contest.
Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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