Saeid Mollaei, a former Iranian judoka, who won a silver medal at the ongoing Olympic Games in Japan for Mongolia, has dedicated his medal to Israel.
Mollaei lost in the men’s 81-kilogram division final to Japan’s Takanori Ngase.
It was the first Olympic medal for Mollaei two years after he left his native Iran, revealing that his national team coaches had ordered him to lose in the semi-finals of the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo to avoid facing Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final.
Mollaei subsequently moved to Germany and then acquired Mongolian citizenship.
He told the Israeli Sports Channel that he was thankful for the support he has received from Israel over the years.
“Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel,” he told the network.
“I hope the Israelis are happy with this win.”
He added in Hebrew: “Todah” (thank you).
Muki has also congratulated his friend, Mollaei.
“I’m super happy for Saeid,” Muki told a press conference of Israeli reporters.
“I know what he’s gone through, and how much he wanted it. He’s a very close friend of mine, and I’m so happy that he succeeded in achieving his dream. He deserves it — his journey is incredibly inspiring.”
Mollaei and Muki became friends following the highly publicized incident at the 2019 World Championships, and have been supporting each other over the past few years.
In February, Mollaei competed at the Grand Slam international judo competition held in Tel Aviv, in which he won silver.
He told CNN at the time that Israel had been “very good to me since I arrived,” adding that the Israeli judo team members “have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”
Two judokas have deliberately bowed out of the Tokyo 2020 Games in order to avoid facing Israeli Tohar Butbul, something the International Olympic Committee vowed to investigate.
Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool failed to appear at his slated competition against Butbul in the men’s 73-kg division on Monday without providing a reason.
Also, last Saturday, Algerian judoka, Fethi Nourine, pulled out of the contest to avoid facing Butbul, citing his support for the Palestinian cause.
“Obviously the IOC is always concerned in these cases and is monitoring it very closely”, International Olympic Committee director of solidarity, James Macleod, told a media briefing in Tokyo on Tuesday.
“Clearly if there are flagrant abuses of the Olympic charter, the IOC will take all necessary measures in that respect.”
Asked by reporters about the behavior of the Algerian and Sudanese athletes, as well as a similar pattern in the past from Iranian and Egyptian competitors, Macleod said the IOC takes every incident seriously.
“The IOC is looking at every case that’s brought to us,” he said on Tuesday. “We will investigate anything that is raised to us, even from third parties. We will work with the national Olympic committees concerned, the international federations, etc., to respond to those on a case-by-case basis.”
The IOC official added that the Olympic organization “has been very clear that non-discrimination, autonomy — all of these principles that are in the Olympic charter — are things we will not flinch from and we will adopt a strict position on all of those.”
In April, the International Judo Federation issued a four-year ban against the Iranian Judo Federation over Tehran’s demands that its athletes should not face Israeli opponents.
The ban was backdated to begin in September 2019, when Mollaei left the Iranian team during the World Championship in Tokyo.