Iran has been banned from international judo competitions indefinitely over the country’s refusal to face Israeli competitors.
The International Judo Federation (IJF) issued a temporary ban last month while investigating a report that Iran had ordered a judoka to deliberately throw a match at the world championships to avoid facing an Israeli competitor in the following round.
“Following the events, which occurred during the last World Judo Championships Tokyo 2019, the final suspension of the Iran Judo Federation from all competitions… has been pronounced,” the IJF said in a statement on October 22.
The suspension comes after world champion Saeid Mollaei walked off the Iranian team in Tokyo in August in protest, saying he was ordered to throw his semi-final rather than risk facing an Israeli opponent in the final of the -81kg class.
Mollaei, 27, lost the semi-final and then went on to lose his third-place fight.
Mollaei said he had been instructed to withdraw from the competition by the presidents of Iran’s Judo Federation and Olympic committee.
The Iranian federation has denied that pressure had been applied to force Mollaei to withdraw from the championships.
However the IJF disciplinary commission examining the case found that Iran’s actions “constitute a serious breach and gross violation of the Statutes of the IJF, its legitimate interests, its principles and objectives.”
The ban will last until “the Iran Judo Federation give strong guarantees and prove that they will respect the IJF Statutes and accept that their athletes fight against Israeli athletes.”
Mollaei is currently in hiding in Germany.
Mollaei told RFE/RL on September 4 that he is not seeking asylum in Germany but that he’s decided to change his life.
“I don’t want to face these problems anymore,” Mollaei said, referring to Iran’s ban on athletes from competing against Israeli athletes.
Iran does not recognize Israel, and Iranian sports teams have employed a policy of not competing against Israelis for the past several decades.
The ban comes as a blow for Iranian judo just nine months ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Judo is one of Iran’s sporting strong points and it is expected to appeal against the IJF decision at the Swiss-based Court for Arbitration of Sport.