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January 15, 2020 2:38 pm

Iranian, Syrian Refugees Set to Compete in Tel Aviv Judo Competition

avatar by Lauren Izso

Israeli Sagi Muki, winner of the 2019 World Judo Championship. Photo: Naoki Nishimura / Aflo Sports / Reuters.

Two judokas originally from Iran and Syria will be in Israel next week to compete in the Tel Aviv Grand Prix 2020 and be honored in a special ceremony recognizing refugee athletes.

As well as being the biggest-ever Grand Prix, with more than 600 judokas from 88 countries, including 20 Israelis, taking part, it will also serve as a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

This will mark the second time the Israeli Judo Association has hosted the tournament, which takes place a few times a year in different countries. After the success of last year’s event in Israel, which saw more than 400 athletes from around 60 countries, the International Judo Federation decided to bring the competition to Tel Aviv once again to kick off 2020.

Iranian refugee Mohammad Rashnonezhad, 23, fled to the Netherlands in 2017, and since then has competed as a part of the International Judo Federation’s Refugee Team in the under 60 kilogram men’s category. When Rashnonezhad announced in November he would be at the Tel Aviv competition, he posted on social media that his attendance proved “sports and politics are separate.”

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Israeli Judo Association spokesman Gil Levanoni agreed with that sentiment, recalling times when Israelis and Iranians could compete against each other in sports. “Before the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Israel and Iran had a great relationship,” he said. “Israel’s football team even played in Tehran in the 70s.”

Ziad Aun, who will also be attending the event, escaped the carnage of the Syrian Civil War and gained refugee status in Holland. He will be the first Syrian athlete to ever compete in Israel in a professional sport.

“We think it’s amazing that sports can unite people,” Levanoni told The Algemeiner. “People should take these athletes’ courage as an example.”

Israeli judoka Sagi Muki, the 2019 World Judo Champion, will likely not be able to compete in next week’s Grand Prix due to an injury. A few months ago, Muki was the target of a boycott by the Tehran regime.

Iranian judoka and 2018 world champion Saeid Mollaei famously fled Iran last year after being forced to forfeit a match rather than go up against an Israeli competitor, Muki.

After the International Judo Federation helped him gain refugee status in Germany, he now competes as a part of the Refugee Team and he and Muki remain friends, although he won’t be attending next week’s event.

The Tel Aviv Grand Prix 2020 will take place Jan. 23-25 at the Shlomo Arena.

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