Iran slams ‘cruel’ judo ban, says it’s based on ‘false claims’

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s judo federation on Wednesday slammed a newly imposed ban on its fighters taking part in international competitions, saying it was based on “false claims.”

The International Judo Federation said Tuesday it had banned Iran indefinitely over the country’s refusal to allow its fighters to face Israeli opponents.

The IJF issued a provisional ban last month while probing allegations Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei had been ordered to lose a combat in order to avoid facing an Israeli at the World Championships in August.

The Iranian federation’s chief Arash Miresmaeili denounced the decision as “a cruel and a blatant betrayal,” the state news agency IRNA said.

“The international federation shouldn’t have taken such a measure against judo in Iran merely based on a false claim by an athlete,” he was quoted as saying.

The decision, he said, would prevent teams of Iranian fighters from various age groups from being sent abroad.

Mollaei, who was defending his title at the World Championships in Tokyo, had said he was ordered to throw his semifinal rather than risk facing an Israeli in the final of the -81kg class.

The Iranian, 27, was defeated in the semifinal and also went on to lose his third-place fight.

He said later that he had been instructed to withdraw from the competition by the presidents of Iran’s judo federation and Olympics committee.

At the time, the Iranian federation rejected the charges and denied attempting to force Mollaei to withdraw from the championships.

Iran does not recognize 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 Miresmaeili himself, a two-time judo world champion who showed up overweight for his bout against an Israeli at the Olympics in Athens in 2004 and was disqualified.

He was praised by Iran’s then-president Mohammad Khatami and the ultraconservative media and eventually made his way to become the judo federation’s chief.

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