An Iranian athlete won silver at the Olympics for Mongolia and dedicated the medal to Israel
On Tuesday, Saeid Mollaei won silver in judo at the Tokyo Olympics, then used his achievement to pay tribute to an adversary of his homeland.
Mollaei, who was born in Iran but now represents Mongolia, dedicated his silver medal to Israel. Since 1985, Iran and Israel have been involved in a proxy war.
Mollaei’s abandonment of Iran stems from an incident at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo.
Mollaei, who represented Iran, reached the semifinals. After winning gold in the previous year’s event in Azerbaijan, he was seeking to defend his title. However, he claimed that Iranian authorities ordered him to lose the match on purpose so that he wouldn’t have to face Israeli champion Sagi Muki in the final.
The International Judo Federation suspended Iran from the event for four years this year, calling its tampering “a significant breach and blatant violation of the IJF’s statutes, legitimate interests, values, and aims.”
Mollaei escaped Iran and went into hiding after disclosing what Iranian officials forced him to do. In August 2019, he was granted asylum in Germany on a two-year visa, and in December 2019, he became a Mongolian citizen.
Mollaei and Muki became friends and spent the next two years training for the Olympics and cheering each other on at various international tournaments.
Muki had lost in the Olympic quarterfinals, but he expressed his delight at Mollaei’s silver.
Mollaei praised the Israeli people’s kindness as he competed in an international judo championship in Tel Aviv in February.