Iran ends boycott on Israeli judokas

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Israel's Sagi Muki raises his hands after winning in the men's under-81 kg weight category during the European Judo Championship in Tel Aviv on 27 April 2018. Photo by Roy Alima

The International Judo Federation reportedly threatened to ban Iran from international competitions if the country continued to pull stunts to avoid its athletes having to face off against Israelis.

In a letter to the International Judo Federation, Iran’s Olympic Committee and local Judo Federation agreed to put an end to their boycott against Israeli athletes, allowing to play Israeli judokas in tournaments rather than refusing, forfeiting or feigning injury to avoid meeting them on the mat as has happened in the past. The IJF welcomed Saturday’s letter, which came after talks pertaining to the “disturbing phenomenon, which involves the sudden ‘injury’ or failure of weigh-in of Iranian athletes.”

Israel’s Army Radio reported that the IJF threatened to ban Iran from international competitions, including the Olympics, if the country continued to pull stunts to avoid its athletes having to face off against Israelis.

Until now, the Iranian sports establishment has avoided competition with Israel, due to the country’s boycott of the Jewish state. 

In February, Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei threw a match at the Paris Grand Slam competition to avoid facing off against Israeli star judoka Sagi Muki, which meant he was no longer eligible to win a gold medal. Though he won the bronze, he again faked an injury to avoid standing on the winners’ podium with Muki, and Iranian athletics head Davoud Azarnoush told Iran’s Radio Farda that he hoped “Israel will be wiped out and annihilated before the next Olympic games, and all of us will breathe a sigh of relief.”

In 2008, an Iranian swimmer at the Beijing Olympics refused to swim in the same pool as an Israeli, and an Iranian judoka was disqualified from the 2004 Athens Games for refusing to face an Israeli.

In 2018, the IJF punished the UAE and Tunisia for their refusal to admit Israelis to compete by stripping them of their right to host international competitions. The UAE subsequently withdrew its ban, and even played Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” when Muki won the gold medal in his category.

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