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Exiled Iranian judoka arrives in Israel, set to train with Israeli team prior to Tel Aviv championship

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Speaking to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster about this momentous occasion on Monday, Israel’s Sagi Muki said that ‘this is a great and important message to the world.’

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a historic moment, exiled Iranian judoka champion Saeid Mollaei arrived in Israel earlier this week to compete in the Tel Aviv Grand Slam Judoka Championship.

Mollaei was welcomed to the country warmly by Israeli judoka champion Sagi Muki with an Instagram post in which Muki called the Iranian judoka his “brother.” 

Last year, Muki also posted a picture of the two together captioning with the words, “friend for life!”

Speaking to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster about this momentous occasion on Monday, Muki said that “this is a great and important message to the world.”

“This is something that can even create a bond to bring Iran and Israel closer,” he said. “This shows how sports can bring people together and break divisions between people.”

In a show of bravery and dissent against the Iranian regime, Mollaei took refuge in Germany after being ordered to lose several rounds of the 2019 Judoka World Championships in Tokyo in order not to face an Israeli opponent. He refused to do so, speaking out against the Iranian regime. 

In November 2019, he was granted refugee status in Germany and has since been competing under the Mongolian flag in recent judoka events. 

According to a report by Israel’s N12 news, Mollaei requested specifically to train with the Israeli team in preparation for the upcoming tournament taking place between February 18 and February 20. Teams will be practicing in capsules in accordance with coronavirus rules.

He will compete in the tournament under the Mongolian flag and may even face his good friend Muki during the event. 

Over 500 athletes are expected to take part in the championship with participants being both tested for coronavirus and quarantining in hotels.

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