Olympic medallist Mollaei 'started new life' with Iran defection

Olympic medallist Mollaei 'started new life' with Iran defection
2 min read
Twenty-nine-year-old Saeid Mollaei left Iran two years ago after being ordered to deliberately lose at a World Cup event to avoid fighting Israeli Sagi Muki in the final.
The 29-year-old left Iran two years ago after being ordered to deliberately lose at a World Cup event to avoid fighting Israeli Sagi Muki in the final [Getty]

Mongolian judoka Saeid Mollaei said he "started a new life" when he defected from Iran in 2019, after winning an Olympic silver medal for his adopted country on Tuesday.

The 29-year-old left Iran two years ago after being ordered to deliberately lose at a World Cup event to avoid fighting Israeli Sagi Muki in the final.

The International Judo Federation suspended Iran from the sport as a result, although the ban was cancelled earlier this year by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

After leaving Iran, Mollaei initially fought for the refugee team before gaining Mongolian nationality.

In February 2021, he fought in Israel and met Muki, who called him his "brother".

"I left everything behind me and started a new life," Mollaei said after a narrow defeat in the Olympic 81kg final by Japanese star Takanori Nagase in Tokyo.

Sports
Live Story

"I've almost forgotten everything there was before. An Olympic medal, it's nothing. I'm with a great team of athletes. The Mongols are nice, very warm and I'm very happy to have won this medal for Mongolia and the Mongol people."

Iran does not recognise Israel and its athletes usually refrain from facing Israeli opponents, whether by giving up the match or simply not participating, and are later praised by top officials.

One of the most famous cases was current Iranian judo federation president Arash Miresmaeili, a two-time judo world champion who showed up overweight for his bout against an Israeli at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and was disqualified.

Mollaei won the 2018 world championship title while competing for Iran.