An Olympic athlete who defected from Iran dedicated his Olympic medal to Israel on Tuesday.
Saeid Mollaei, competing for Mongolia, won a silver medal in the men’s 81kg judo competition in the Summer Games in Tokyo.
After his victory, Mollaei had a comment for the Israeli media.
“Thank you to Israel for all the good energy — this medal is dedicated to you as well and I hope Israelis is happy with this victory,” he said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Mollaei then added a Hebrew word, “todah,” which means “thank you.”
In 2019, he fled Iran for Germany after refusing to forfeit a match against Sagi Muki of Israel. He was granted citizenship in Mongolia and has continued to compete in international judo events.
Muki, who had been eliminated earlier in the Olympic judo tournament, said he was pleased that Mollaei won a medal.
“He is a very close friend of mine and I know what he went through to get here. He deserves it. He is inspiring,” Muki said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Twitter rejoiced with Mollaei.
Humanity defeats hate.
Saeid Mollaei is the Iranian judo champion who in 2019 defied regime orders to lose intentionally so as not to compete with Israelis. He defected to Germany.
Now representing Mongolia, Mollaei just won the Olympic Silver Medal—and dedicated it to Israel. https://t.co/CdQ9p7ezbG
— Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) July 27, 2021
Iranian born judoka Saeid Mollaei has won a silver medal in the Tokyo 2020 judo tournament as a representative for the Mongolian team. Congratulations!
He refused to boycott Israel at the Tokyo 2019 World Championships, and as a result could not return to Iran. He is a hero! pic.twitter.com/4uG1SZ2sqH
— Hananya Naftali (@HananyaNaftali) July 27, 2021
2 years after the 2019 World Championships, Saeid Mollaei fought as a free man with the spirit of a warrior, and took the Olympic silver medal in the home of judo.
— Marius Vizer (@MariusVizer) July 28, 2021
Mollaei’s disclosure that Iran was forcing competitors to lose to avoid facing Israeli athletes led to the International Judo Federation suspending Iran for four years for state-sponsored antisemitism, according to Fox News.
The federation called the Iranian policy “a serious breach and gross violation of the statutes of the IJF, its legitimate interests, its principles and objectives.” Iran appealed the suspension but lost.
Despite that, some athletes still will not face Israelis.
Algerian judo competitor Fathi Nourine last week withdrew from the Olympics rather than face an Israeli rival. He had done the same thing in the 2019 world championship.
The IJF suspended Nourine and his coach.
“Judo sport is based on a strong moral code, including respect and friendship, to foster solidarity and we will not tolerate any discrimination, as it goes against the core values and principles of our sport,” the IJF said.
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