Ex-Iranian judoka Mollaei finally takes on Israeli Muki

·1-min read

Three years after being forced to refuse to fight Israeli Sagi Muki, judoka Saeid Mollaei, a former Iranian turned Azerbaijani, faced his opponent on Saturday at the Grand Slam Hungary.

Mollaei, 30, won in the third round of the tournament, and the two men, who had become friends, hugged after the fight.

On his Instagram account, Muki, also 30, welcomed a "victory of sport over politics" and praised "the ability of sport and friendship to bridge all the gaps against the odds".

"Thank you brother," replied Mollaei, who went on to take silver in the event after losing to Brazil's Guilherme Schmidt in the final.

The story between the two judokas dates back to August 2019 during the world championships in Tokyo.

Mollaei, the defending world champion in -81 kg, lost successively in the semi-finals, then in his fight for third place, eventually finishing fifth.

He said shortly after that he had been pressured by the Iranian authorities to do so, in order to avoid meeting Israeli Muki in the final.

Muki eventually won the gold medal and the Iranian Federation was suspended the following month.

Mollaei was forced to go into exile in Germany, before changing his sporting nationality, first becoming naturalised Mongolian, before taking Azerbaijani citizenship.

In February 2021, he was welcomed as a hero in Israel to compete in an international competition.

"For the first time in the history of our sport, since 1979, a man born in Iran and who defended the colours of his country all the way to becoming world champion, faced an Israeli, also a world champion," said the International Judo Federation, calling the meeting a "fight for freedom".

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