Iranian defector Saeid Mollaei dedicates judo silver medal win to Israel

Iranian defector Saeid Mollaei dedicates judo silver medal win to Israel
AP Photo/Vincent Thian
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An Iranian athlete who defected from the country dedicated his new Olympic medal to Israel, thanking the country in Hebrew for the support they have given him in the men’s 81kg judo final. 

On Tuesday, Saeid Mollaei, who won a silver medal in judo, “dedicated his first-ever Olympic medal to Israel and thanked the country for the support they have given him after a nail-biting final,” reported the Daily Mail.  “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 said after his final match with a Japanese competitor. “This medal is dedicated also to Israel.”

Mollaei currently competes for Mongolia, after he defected to Germany during the 2019 Judo World Championships. Originally a member of the Iranian team, Mollaei was described as one of the team’s most promising athletes. He defected after an Iranian sports minister demanded that he withdraw from a judo championship match rather than spar with an Israeli athlete. 

Mollaei was ordered not to compete against Sagi Muki, who also participated in the current Tokyo Olympics but was eliminated early on after losing against Austria. Muki told the press that he respected the Iranian and described him as a “close friend,” whom he supported for finally “achieving his dream.”

At least one Iranian official has condemned Mollaei for his refusal to engage in intolerance and bigotry against Israelis. The President of the Iranian Judo Federation, Arash Miresmaeili, called Mollaei a “foolish athlete” and “hollow champion who only thinks of his personal interests has gone to Tel Aviv and is proud of it.” 

“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.

At least two athletes have withdrawn from judo events at the Tokyo Olympics because they did not want to face an Israeli athlete.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 reported on Monday.

Both Nourine and his coach received suspensions from the competition over their refusal to physically interact with Israelis, but Nourine said “God will compensate” him for believing the “Palestinian cause is bigger” than the Olympic games.

“We have worked hard to qualify for the Games, but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all that,” he reportedly 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.”

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