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Martial Moves: First Iranian To Win Judo Competition In Israel

Saeid Mollaei represented Mongolia. He left Iran when ordered not to face an Israeli opponent at the Tokyo championships.

Sports can occasionally double as diplomacy.

Ping-Pong helped open relations with China, while judo has eased relations for one Iranian and his Israeli counterparts.

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei won a silver medal at the International Judo Federation’s Grand Slam Feb. 19 in Israel. He is not only the first Iranian to achieve victory in the country, but the first to compete in it.

Mollaei represented Mongolia in the under-81 kilograms (178 lbs.) category, where he came in second place after losing to Sharofiddin Boltaboev from Uzbekistan.

Mollaei become a Mongolian citizen after failing to return to Iran following the Tokyo 2019 World Championships, in which he was reportedly ordered to lose a match to prevent facing Sagi Muki, an Israeli opponent.

Muki welcomed Mollaei to Israel Feb. 15 with the tweet: “Welcome brother.”  Israel’s official Twitter account also welcomed Mollaei: “We’d like to give a warm welcome to Iranian Judoka Saeid Mollaei who arrived in Israel to train with the Israeli team ahead of the Tel Aviv Grand Slam Competition!”

Saeid Mollaei is the first Iranian to compete in the International Judo Federation’s Grand Slam in Israel. (Tasnim News Agency/Wikimedia Commons)

The International Judo Federation quoted Mollaei as saying he was appreciative of the Israeli welcome.

“Ten years ago, even four, if you had asked me about the possibility of competing in Israel, you already know the answer. I would have told you that it would not be possible,” he was quoted as saying. “They have been very good to me since I arrived. Today, I have trained with the Israeli team and they have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”

Muki did not get the chance to face off against his Iranian-Mongolian opponent in the Tel Aviv contest, having lost in his first round.

(Edited by Fern Siegel and David Martosko)

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