A famous Iranian judo fighter who fled to Germany after publicly criticising Iranian officials has arrived in Israel for this year’s Tel Aviv Grand Slam.
Iranian judo practitioner Saeid Mollaei was granted asylum in Germany in November 2019 after publicly claiming select officials coerced him to throw a bout to avoid meeting Israeli fighter Sagi Muki at the World Judo Championship in Tokyo on 28th August.
According to local media, minutes before the match, Mollaei was told by Reza Salehi Amiri, president of the Iranian Olympic Committee, that security services were at his parents’ house in Iran’s capital Tehran.
Faced with the pressure, Mollaei deliberately lost the match to avoid competing against high-ranking Muki, who went on to win the gold at the championships.
Now, almost two years later, Mollaei landed in Israel on Sunday, days before the Tel Aviv Grand Slam which will take place from 18th to 20th February at the Shlomo Group Arena in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.
The two rivals may well be facing each other in the contest.
Muki said: “This is a great message to the world. This is something that can even bring Iran closer to Israel. It simply shows how sport can bring together people and break boundaries.”
Mollaei, fighting in the under 81kg (178.5 lbs) category, has won two world medals, bronze and gold.
The Grand Slam will be held despite the lockdown still active in Israel and chairman of the Israel Judo Association, Moshe Ponte, said: “We will do everything to ensure that there isn’t even one infected person.”
He added that everyone from the Israeli team has already received the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
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