Photo Credit: Israel Judo Association
Israeli judoka Sagi Muki (left) and Iranian expat Saeid Mollaei in Tel Aviv on Feb. 16, 2021.

Iranian champion judoka Saeid Mollaei made history in Tel Aviv on Friday when he won a silver medal in the Grand Slam International Judo Competition under 81-kg class competition.

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Mollaei was competing for Mongolia when he lost to Sahrofiddin Boltaboez of Uzbekistan. Israel’s Tohar Butbul took bronze.

It was Israeli juodoka Sagi Muki he had been ordered to avoid two years ago, and who tweeted a photo of the two of them hugging upon Mollaei’s arrival in the Jewish State, with a caption reading “Welcome brother.”


In 2019, Iran ordered Mollaei to back out of a World Judo Championship tournament to avoid having to face an Israeli competitor – Sagi Muki.

Instead, he refused to return home and competed that day, and chose to defect from his homeland.

He was granted asylum in Germany in August of that year, and subsequently became a citizen of Mongolia.

Mollaei said he will never forget the kindness he has been shown by the Israeli judo team. He said he had feared for his safety and that of his family after ignoring Iranian officials two years ago.

“They have been very good to me since I arrived,” Mollaei said last Thursday, according to the International Judo Federation (IJF). “Today I have trained with the Israeli team and they have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”

Meantime, the IJF has suspended Iran from international competitions following its multiple orders to Mollaei’s coach insisting he force the fighter to pull out of the 2019 World Championship in Tokyo, Japan, to avoid meeting Muki in the final. The emotional weight of those warnings cost Mollaei the ability to win in that competition, and the IJF was alert to the price he paid.

Iran is appealing the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, but no final decision has yet been published, according to CNN.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.