Recordings prove Iranian judoka was pressured to lose rather than fight Israelis

Newly revealed recordings show that Iranian athletes were forced to lose earlier rather than risk fighting Israeli competitors in finals.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Judo (illustration)
Judo (illustration)

Iranian media has revealed audio files indicating that the Iranian authorities tried to pressure Iranian Judo Federation president, Arash Miresmaeili into avoiding bouts with Israeli athletes, even to the point of deliberately throwing matches to avoid being placed in the same bracket.

In the recordings, Miresmaeili and coach Majid Zareian discuss Saeid Mollaei, the 2018 world judo champion, saying that he had been coerced into deliberately losing in a semi-final bout in Tokyo during September 2019 to avoid a final against an Israeli judoka. This led to the International Judo Federation imposing a four-year ban on Iran’s judo federation for all tournaments.

"The position of the regime, myself, the minister, all of us, is that he is not allowed to compete [against the Israeli rival],” the president of the federation can be heard saying. “Make him understand that he is not allowed under any circumstances. He will be held responsible for whatever decision he makes."

The IJF ban was originally intended to last ‘until Iran guaranteed its cooperation with IJF statutes’, including competing against Israeli athletes. The Iranian Ministry of Sports, Olympics Committee, and Judo Federation jointly protested the IJF ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the Judo Federation President Arash Miresmaeili accused Mollaei of lying. Although the CAS eventually ruled against Iran, they also ordered that the case be reinvestigated before any action was taken.

The IJF announced the ban on Thursday, in a statement citing “repeated and very severe breaches of the IJF statutes and the fundamental principles of Olympism.”

Mollaei was later given asylum in Germany, and in December 2019 accepted a Mongolian citizenship offered by the President of Mongolia in person. He now leads the Mongolian team at events around the world. Mollaei will train in Israel with the Israeli national judo team in the months prior to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, despite a long-standing call for the international spotting world to boycott Israel.