FILE PHOTO: Judo – World Judo Championships – Men’s Under 81 kg – Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan – August 28, 2019 – Iran’s Saeid Mollaei reacts. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) – World judo champion Saeid Mollaei of Iran, who fled his country last year, will compete at this year’s Tokyo Olympics for Mongolia after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved his nationality switch on Tuesday.
The 2018 world champion fled Iran for Germany after saying he had been pressured by Iranian authorities to drop out of his quarter-final and semi-final at last August’s world championships in Tokyo to avoid a potential final with Israel’s Sagi Muki.
Mollaei refused to return to Iran over fears for his safety after ignoring the orders from the country’s National Olympic Committee and government.
He was initially accepted as a refugee in Germany and then made the switch to Mongolia.
That move did not require the normal three-year waiting period for athletes changing national teams as Mollaei had previously been recorded as a refugee.
Mollaei’s case was not the first time athletes from Arab nations or Iran had been ordered to pull out or had refused to compete with Israeli athletes at the Olympics or other international competitions.
Since its Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iran has refused to recognize Israel as a country and the two have been arch-enemies for decades.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, then-Iranian world champion Arash Miresmaeili refused to fight Israeli judoka Ehud Vaks, earning praise back home.
At the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was sent home after refusing to shake the hand of Israeli Or Sasson following their bout.
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; editing by Clare Fallon