Judo federation bans Iran over refusal to face Israelis

Saeid Mollaei was distraught after losing his semi-final at the 2019 Judo World Championships (AFP Photo/Charly TRIBALLEAU)

Paris (AFP) - The International Judo Federation (IJF) said Tuesday it had banned Iran from competition indefinitely over the country's refusal to allow its fighters to face Israeli opponents.

The federation issued a provisional ban last month while investigating a report that Iran had ordered a judoka to lose at the world championships to avoid facing an Israeli in the next round.

"Following the events, which occurred during the last World Judo Championships Tokyo 2019, the final suspension of the Iran Judo Federation from all competitions... has been pronounced," the IJF said in a statement.

The Israeli Judo Association and its head Moshe Ponte praised the international body and its chief Marius Vizer after the decision.

"Marius Vizer is an amazing man and a true friend of Israeli sport, and specifically Israeli judo," a statement said.

"Sport is meant to connect people and not separate them," it added.

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

The Iranian, 27, lost the semi-final and then went on to lose his third-place fight.

Mollaei said he had been instructed to withdraw from the competition by the presidents of the Iran Judo Federation and the Iran Olympic committee.

Rejecting the charges, the Iranian federation denied attempting to force Mollaei to withdraw from the championships.

However the IJF disciplinary commission examining the case found that Iran's actions "constitute a serious breach and gross violation of the Statutes of the IJF, its legitimate interests, its principles and objectives."

The ban will last until "the Iran Judo Federation give strong guarantees and prove that they will respect the IJF Statutes and accept that their athletes fight against Israeli athletes."

Judo is one of Iran's sporting strengths and the ban comes as a blow just nine months ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Tehran is expected to appeal to the Swiss-based Court for Arbitration of Sport.