Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, who fled to Germany after being ordered to throw away a match in order not to compete against an Israeli, has been recognized as a refugee in Germany.
The International Judo Federation (IJF) said in a statement on Saturday that Mollaei had received official notice from the German Office for Migration and Refugees that he can now benefit from the status of “Recognized Refugee”.
This status gives Mollaei the right to live legally and safely in Germany, where he trains now and prepares to resume the course of his career, which had been halted following the events in Tokyo at the end of August.
Mollaei said, "I am very happy and I want to thank from the bottom of my heart everybody who helped me in those difficult moments. Now I can fully concentrate on judo and the preparation for the next IJF events and for the Olympic Games."
The IJF noted that the administrative procedures are not completed yet, and Mollaei must now obtain the papers to travel and take part in the competitions on the World Judo Tour to continue to collect valuable points at the World Ranking List.
The 27-year-old Mollaei made headlines after he ignored Iranian officials’ demands to withdraw from the World Judo Championships in order to avoid competing against an Israeli. After losing in the semifinals of the competition -- a result he says was affected by the emotional stress caused by the Iran officials request – he travelled to Germany to begin the process of applying for asylum.
In response to Iran’s boycott of Israeli athletes, the IJF banned Iran from all international competitions, saying the ban will be in effect “until the Iran Judo Federation gives strong guarantees and prove that they will respect the IJF Statutes and accept that their athletes fight against Israeli athletes”.
Iran's judo federation blasted the ban, saying it was based on "false claims".
Iran does not recognize Israel and its athletes usually refrain from facing Israeli opponents.
In 2010, an Iranian contestant withdrew from a Taekwondo match against Israel’s Gili Haimovitz, who won a gold medal by default.
In 2012, Iranian athletes announced their intention to boycott competitions against Israelis at the London Olympics.
Two years ago, two Iranian players were criticized in their home country after they appeared for their Greek club Panionios in a Europa League qualifier against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Iran forced Mollaei to throw a match even though the IJF and Iran reached an agreement in May which stipulates that Iran will no longer boycott competitions against Israelis.