Photo Credit: Saeid Mollaei / Facebook
Iranian-Mongolian judoka Saeid Mollaei in Tel Aviv, Israel for the 2021 World Championships. Mollaei defected from Iran in 2019 after having been ordered to throw a match so as to avoid facing Israeli judoka Sagi Muki if he won.

Former Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, who now competes for Mongolia, said a very public ‘thank you’ to Israel after winning a silver medal Tuesday (July 27) in the men’s 81 kg category at the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.

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Mollaei was forced to abandon his native country after being ordered by Iranian officials to lose his semifinal match at the 2019 World Judo Championships so he could avoid facing Israeli world champion judoka Sagi Muki.

The Iranian judoka first traveled to Germany, and subsequently to Mongolia, where he received citizenship and under whose flag he currently competes in the Tokyo Olympic Games.

On Tuesday (July 27) Mollaei won a silver medal for his adopted country and told reporters, “Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel.”

Earlier this year, Mollaei had told reporters ahead of the 2019 World Championship tournament held in Tel Aviv in which he competed that he would “never forget the kindness he was shown” by Israel’s judo team.

In 2021 it was announced that Mollaei would feature in a scripted television series based on his and Israeli judoka Sagi Muki’s lives, with the International Judo Federation [IJF] involved in the production of the series, according to a report on the Olympics.com website.

At the 2019 World Championships, in which he competed for the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mollaei said Iranian sporting authorities pressured him to lose his semifinal bout to avoid the possibility of facing Muki in the final.

In March 2021 the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS] found the Iran Judo Federation breached the Olympic Charter and committed “severe violations of the International Judo Federation rules” for which the country was given a four-year suspension.

“Sagi is my friend. We may fight on the tatami, but before the tatami and away from the tatami, we will always be friends.”

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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.