Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, who fled Iran after speaking out against the regime, arrived in Israel on Sunday night.
Upon his arrival, he was greeted at the airport by Moshe Ponte, the President of the Israel Judo Association.
“I am very happy that I came to the competition, thanks to the organizers. I wish only good and safety to all the people and all the Israelis," he said.
While in Israel, Mollaei will participate in the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, scheduled for February 18-20. He will represent Mongolia in the tournament.
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.
He was recognized as a refugee in Germany in November of 2019.
His change of nationality to Mongolia from refugee status was approved by the International Olympic Committee in March of 2020.
In response to Iran’s boycott of Israeli athletes, the International Judo Federation (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.
Iran had forced Mollaei to throw a match even though the IJF and Iran reached an agreement which stipulates that Iran will no longer boycott competitions against Israelis.