Iran has been suspended from international judo for ordering a judoka to lose at the world championships to avoid facing an Israeli, the International Judo Federation (IJF) said on Wednesday.
Saeid Mollaei, who entered last month’s event in Tokyo as the reigning world champion in the -81kg class, said he was ordered to throw his semi-final rather than risk facing an Israeli in the final.
Mollaei lost to Belgian Matthias Casse who in turn lost to Sagi Muki of Israel in the final.
“The alleged actions are serious enough to consider the application of a protective suspension,” the IJF said in a statement.
It explained that it had “strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct”.
After finishing fifth in Tokyo last month, Mollaei fled to Berlin.
“I’ve had a German visa and I’m in Germany to stay away from the rumours,” Mollaei told the London-based Persian language channel Iran International.
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“God forbid something would happen to my family. But I serve my country and whatever medal I get belongs to Iran, whether it’s under the Iran or IOC flag,” he added.
“I feel sorry that maybe I won’t be able to compete for Iran again. But I didn’t train this hard just to put up this show of losing.”
The Times of Israel quoted the Israeli coach as saying Mollaei’s family had been threatened.
“From what we understand,” said Moshe Fonti. “Iranian intelligence officials came both to his home in Iran and to the judo arena and warned him.”
The statement said the IJF “notes that similar acts have been observed in the past.”
It gave as an example Arash Miresmaeili, Iran’s flag bearer at the 2004 Athens Olympics and a favourite in the 66kg class. He was drawn to face Israeli Ehud Vaks in the first round but was too heavy at the weigh in and was disqualified without fighting. Miresmaeili is now the head of Iran’s judo federation.
There have been examples of Iranian athletes being told to lose to avoid facing Israeli opponents in other sports, most notably wrestler Alireza Karimi at the under-23 World Championships in 2017. His coach was caught yelling “Alireza you must lose, the Israeli won” in a video that went viral in 2017.
Karimi was suspended for six months for throwing his bout, while his coach was banned for two years.
The IJF specifies that the Iranian Federation may appeal this decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within 21 days.