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September 2, 2019 12:22 pm

Iranian Judoka Who Fled to Germany Congratulates Israeli World Champion He Avoided Facing

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei (left) competes against Canadian Antoine Valois-Fortier (right) at the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, Japan, Aug. 28, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Kim Kyung-Hoon.

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, who fled to Germany after authorities in Tehran instructed him to throw a World Judo Championships match to avoid facing Israeli champion Sagi Muki, has publicly congratulated Muki for the first time on his gold medal.

In an exchange on Instagram alongside a picture of Muki, Mollaei wrote, “Congratulation champion.”

“Thank you,” Muki replied. “You are inspiration as a human being and as an athlete.”

In an interview with a UK Persian-language TV channel after he fled to the West, Mollaei confirmed, “The head of the Iranian Olympic Committee and his deputy told me to lose.”

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“After Sagi Muki made the final,” he recounted, “Iran put pressure on me to intentionally lose in my semi-final.”

“But I came to really compete and not to make a show,” Mollaei stated.

“I love Iran very much and I would love to continue to represent it,” he added, “but winning the medal is the most important thing for me.”

Mollaei noted that his partner lives in Germany and he has a home there.

“I did not seek asylum,” he said. “I am not a refugee. I have an apartment in Germany.”

Iran has blamed the International Judo Federation, which organized the championship, for Mollaei’s decision.

Marius Vizer, head of the IJF, confirmed that Mollaei and his family had indeed been pressured to throw a match.

Vizer added that he hoped Mollaei would be able to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

In an interview with The Algemeiner last week, Sagi Muki addressed the issue of Mollaei’s snub, as well as an Egyptian judoka who refused to shake hands with him.

“It’s a sad situation,” he said, “because judo is about the connection between people.”

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