Iranian judo star Saeid Mollaei, who claimed he was ordered to deliberately lose a world championship fight, could compete under a refugee flag at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, officials said Sunday. International Judo Federation (IJF) President Marius Vizer has thrown his support behind former world champion Mollaei, who reportedly complained he had been instructed by Iranian authorities to throw a match in Tokyo last week to avoid facing Israeli Sagi Muki.
"It is our mission to protect our athletes, that's clear," Vizer told Agence France-Presse (AFP). "We will do our best that he will compete in the Olympic Games. Later we will see in which team. There are different options, but one of them will be applied for the Olympics." Vizer was quoted by local media as saying that Mollaei had told him pressure was being exerted on his family in Iran, prompting him to lose to Belgium's Matthias Casse in the semifinals of the men's 81-kilo class. The 27-year-old Tehran native subsequently fled to Berlin where he is currently seeking asylum, Vizer told Japan's Asahi newspaper. Vizer added that an emergency meeting would be convened this week to investigate whether Mollaei and his family had been the victim of political coercion or threats and subsequently to decide whether to punish the Iranian judo federation. Iran's Fars News Agency accused Mollaei of pre-planning his defection, quoting Iran's judo head coach Majed Zarian as saying: "Everything was set in advance, someone in Iran must have helped him." Iran does not recognize Israel and Iranian passports remind holders in bold red they are "not entitled to travel to occupied Palestine."
There have been previous examples of Iranian athletes being told to lose to avoid facing Israeli opponents, most notably wrestler Alireza Karimi, whose coach was caught yelling "Alireza you must lose, the Israeli won" in a video that went viral in 2017.
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