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Iran should be banned from judo competitions

Forcing its athletes to throw matches to avoid competing against Israelis should lead to automatic disqualification
In this picture taken on August 28, 2019, Iran's Saeid Mollaei (in white) fights against Belgium's Matthias Casse during the semifinal of the men's under-81kg category during the 2019 Judo World Championships, in Tokyo, Japan. (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
In this picture taken on August 28, 2019, Iran's Saeid Mollaei (in white) fights against Belgium's Matthias Casse during the semifinal of the men's under-81kg category during the 2019 Judo World Championships, in Tokyo, Japan. (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

At the World Judo Championship in Tokyo last week, a competitor from Iran, Saeid Mollaei, the defending world champion, was coerced by the Iranian government to throw his semi-final match against Belgium’s Matthias Casse so that he would not have to face Israel’s Sagi Muki in the final.

Mollaei, who has been accused of intentionally losing fights in the past to avoid competing against Muki, was clearly upset by the pressure that had been exerted on him and his family to lose. “I came to compete for real, not to put on a show,” said Mollaei, a resident of Germany.

Saying he would no longer represent Iran at competitions, Mollaei disclosed he would compete under the Olympic flag in the future.

This sordid incident ended auspiciously for Israel. Muki won the gold medal, defeating Casse in the last match, thereby becoming the first Israeli male to finish first in that event.

Mollaei ended up in fifth place.

Marius Vizer, the head of the International Judo Federation, the governing body of the sport, was reportedly angry that Mollaei threw his match. He had been assured by Iran that Iranian athletes would no longer boycott their Israeli counterparts. But that assurance crumbled in Tokyo, and Vizer was made to look like a fool.

It’s no secret that Iran, Israel’s deadly enemy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, forbids its athletes from competing against Israelis. Since there are no tangible signs on the horizon that Iran intends to modify its policy, the International Judo Federation¬†has a moral obligation to ensure that such a travesty will never occur again at the¬†World Judo Championship.

Political rivalries must never be allowed to intrude into international sporting events. They must be completely free of bias or hostility. Athletics are all about sportsmanship, not politics. Iran, however, seeks to have it both ways. Iran wants to send its athletes to competitions abroad while boycotting Israel.

This is untenable. From this point forward, Iran must never be permitted to play this despicable game again.

As for Vizer, he faces a stark choice.

He can issue a binding ultimatum to Iran that its loathsome boycott of Israel is totally unacceptable and that failure to abide by International Judo Federation regulations will result in immediate expulsion.

Alternatively, he can make his calculations and eject Iran from the federation without further delay.

Iran can either obey the rules or go its own separate way.

There is no middle ground here. The ball is in Iran’s court.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com
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