Iran’s Saeid Mollaei says he fears for his and his family’s safety after ignoring calls from Iranian authorities to pull out of the World Judo Championships in Japan.
Mollaei said he was told to withdraw from his match against Russia’s Olympic champion Khasan Khalmurzaev to avoid the prospect of facing Israel’s Sagi Muki later in the tournament.
Iranian athletes are prohibited from competing in any sport against Israel.
“I could have been champion,” he said.
“I’ve been training hard.
“But the National Olympic Committee of Iran and the Sport Minister told me to not compete, that I had to comply with the law.
“I am a fighter. I want to compete wherever I can. I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice; all athletes must comply with it.
“Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid. I am afraid of what might happen to my family and to myself.”
Mollaei, who was eventually knocked out in the semi-finals of the men’s -81kg class by Belgium’s Matthias Casse, has since left the competition in Japan and is currently in Germany.
Muki later beat Casse to win the gold medal.
Earlier in 2019, the National Olympic Committee of Iran had said it would comply with the Olympic charter and statutes of the International Judo Federation (IJF), paving the way for Iranian athletes to compete against Israeli athletes.
After last week’s events, IJF president Marius Vizer said Mollaei could potentially compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics independently of Iran.
“First of all we will do everything to support the athlete so he can continue his career and participate in the Olympic Games,” Vizer told 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.”