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Judo world champion granted Mongolian citizenship after fleeing Iran

Judo Iran Israel

FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018 file photo, Saeid Mollaei of Iran, top, competes against Didar Khamza of Kazakhstan during their men’s - 81kg final judo match at the18th Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia. Judo world champion Iran has been banned from international judo competitions for refusing to let its athletes fight Israeli opponents. The International Judo Federation has imposed an indefinite ban on Iran’s team until it promises to end a long-running boycott of Israel. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana, File)

AP

A judo world champion from Iran who went into hiding after disobeying orders to withdraw from August’s world championships to avoid a potential Israeli opponent has been granted Mongolian citizenship, according to the International Judo Federation.

Saeid Mollaei, a 2018 World champion, can compete in Olympic qualifying events under his new flag.

Mollaei walked off the Iranian team in August, saying he had been ordered by the government to lose matches and withdraw from competitions so as not to face Israelis. He competed anyway but lost one round before a potential final with an Israeli, then fled to Germany.

“I want to compete wherever I can,” Mollaei said in a statement from the IJF in September. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.

“I need help. Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid.”

In October, Iran was banned indefinitely from international judo competitions for refusing to let its athletes fight Israeli opponents.

Mollaei remained eligible to compete as part of a refugee team before the switch to Mongolia.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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