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Iranian Judo Federation Suspended — And Now all Iranian Sports are at Risk

September 18, 2019
Payam Younesipour
5 min read
The International Judo Federation posted a photo of Saeed Mollaei on its site
The International Judo Federation posted a photo of Saeed Mollaei on its site

The International Judo Federation (IJF) has officially suspended Iran’s Judo Federation until further notice — in complete contradiction to the Supreme Leader’s insistence that sporting organizations have no power over Iranian athletes.

“I want to tell you that you should not be scared,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in November 2018 when meeting with the champions of Iran’s national teams as they returned home from the Asian Games in Indonesia. “You should not be intimidated by things like: ‘Don’t participate in this match,’ ‘Don’t wear that outfit,’ ‘A federation or sports organization will be angry at you,’ and so on. To hell with them if they get angry, they can’t do anything.”

Although the Leader framed the comments as words of encouragement, he was actually referring to the fact that Iranian athletes are banned from competing against Israelis. The IJF decision has proven how wrong he was.

The most recent sporting saga emerged when Saeid Mollaei​ could not take it anymore. He lost his patience and wanted to do something about it. Mollaei, who was the first contender in the 81kg division at the World Judo Championships, was forced to lose a qualifier game to avoid coming up against the finalist Israeli player Sagi Muki. In fact, Iranian officials ordered that he not even qualify for third place, because that would mean he would have to stand on the medals stage holding up the Iranian flag and celebrating his success alongside the Israeli athlete. 

A couple of days later, a Japanese newspaper published an interview with the IJF president Marius Vizer, in which he said: “Mollaei lost the game under pressure, even his family were under pressure. Now he is staying in Germany and asked the IJF for help. We will send him to the 2020 Olympics as a part of our refugees’ team.”

Since then, the Iranian Judo Federation and Iran's National Olympic Committee have been under international scrutiny. “Is Iran politics still interfering in the sports affairs?” they were asked.

It was then exposed for the first time that Iran’s National Olympic Committee had signed a treaty in which it promised to not place any restrictions on athletes competing against Israelis in any sports event or tournament. In its September 18 statement, the IJF referred specifically to the agreement.

The official post on IJF’s website reads: “Following what happened during the last World Judo Championships Tokyo 2019, the International Judo Federation pronounces against the Iran Judo Federation a protective suspension from all competitions, administrative and social activities organized or authorized by International Judo Federation and its Unions.”

IJF also posted a prominent photograph of Mollaei, confirming that the suspension was a result of the judo champion being banned from competing against an Israeli judoka. “The International Judo Federation (IJF) has been informed that the [sic] August 28th, 2019, during the last 2019 World Championships in Tokyo, a judoka from Iran Mr. Saeid MOLLAEI (-81kg) has been instructed by the Iranian authorities and the Iran Judo Federation to withdraw from competing to avoid a potential contest against an Israeli athlete, in this case, Mr. Sagi MUKI,” the announcement read.

The report continued: “These facts and actions are in gross contradiction with the content of the letter sent to the IJF on May 8th, 2019 under the signature of Presidents Seyed Reza SALEHI AMIRI, President of the I.R. Iran NOC and Arash MIRESMAEILI, President, I.R. Iran Judo Federation, which categorically confirms that...'by means of this letter, we would like to confirm that the I.R. Iran NOC shall fully respect the Olympic Charter and its non-discrimination principle and the I.R. Iran Federation shall fully comply with the Olympic Charter and the IJF Statutes...'”.

The International Olympic Committee has asked all Iranian sports federations to monitor Iranian athletes’ activities in international tournaments to ensure they are not avoiding competition with Israeli athletes. 

Prior to this, the former president of Iran’s Wrestling Federation had warned that all Iranian sports were in danger, and that the  International Olympic Committee might be prepared to suspend Iranian international sport altogether.

“This is something that goes beyond depriving our national champions in this field, who are, and have been, the standard-bearers of this country’s honor and pride at major Olympics and international arenas,” wrote Rasoul Khadem, the former president and an Olympic gold medalist.

IJF quoted its statute on its website to outline the grounds for its decision to suspend the Iranian Judo Federation. In particular, it pointed to: 

  • Article 1.2.2 (respect of the principle of the universality and political neutrality of the IJF) 
  • Article 1.2.4 (rejection of all forms of discrimination, no matter the reason, in particular related to race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, RELIGION, POLITICAL or other opinions, NATIONAL OR SOCIAL ORIGIN, wealth, birth or any other situation)” 
  • The IJF Code of Ethics and The Olympic Charter

The site further said: “The IJF Executive Committee considered that such a conduct is intolerable, and, consequently, has decided, in accordance with Article 28 of the IJF Statutes, to initiate a disciplinary procedure against the Iran Judo Federation and to submit the case to the IJF Disciplinary Commission of the First Instance."

The decision means that Iranian Judo referees will not be able to oversee any domestic or international games, Iranian Judokas will be banned from competing in any domestic or international match, communications between the Iranian Judo Federation and domestic and international organizations will not be considered to be official communications, and, for the meantime, Iran’s National Olympic Committee must take on the federation’s responsibilities. In addition, Iran is not allowed to host any Judo tournaments, and no Iranian team can attend a friendly or official tournament anywhere in the world. 

Crucially, the IJF also emphasized that Iranian Judokas are not allowed to attend the international Judo tournament in Uzbekistan, which starts on September 20 in Tashkent.

At the end of the IJF announcement, the president stated that the federation was informing the Iranian Judo Federation that its decision “is subject to appeal with the Court of Arbitration For Sport. The time limit for appeal shall be 21 days from the receipt of the decision appealed against.”    

The next step is the appeal. But what is clear from this week’s IJF statement is that, contrary to what the Supreme Leader believed, international sports organizations do have authority over Iranian sports. The Judo Federation was at the front line, and now there is a risk that the International Olympic Committee could suspend all Iranian sports from taking part in international competitions.





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