(Reuters) - Iran was suspended from international competition by the International Judo Federation (IJF) on Wednesday for putting pressure on one of its fighters to withdraw from the world judo championships to avoid having to face an Israeli opponent.
The Iran Judo Federation was hit with a “protective suspension from all competitions, administrative and social activities organised or authorized by the IJF and its unions” until a final decision is issued by the IJF’s disciplinary arm.
Iran has 21 days to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the IJF said in a statement on its website here
The IJF said Iran judoka Saeid Mollaei, the 2018 world champion, was pressured by Iranian authorities to drop out of his quarter- and semi-final at last month’s world championships in Tokyo to avoid a potential final with Israel’s Sagi Muki.
Mollaei, who is in hiding in Germany, has refused to return to Iran over fears for his safety after ignoring the orders from the country’s National Olympic Committee and government.
The IJF said Iran’s actions constituted “a serious breach and gross violation” of the governing body’s principles and the Olympic Charter.
“The IJF Executive Committee considered that such conduct is intolerable (and) has decided to initiate a disciplinary procedure against the Iran Judo Federation,” the IJF added.
In Tehran, the head of the Iran Judo Federation, Arash Miresmaeili, called the IJF decision “very hasty and unfair”, the state news agency IRNA reported.
This is not the first time athletes from Arab nations or Iran have been ordered to pull out or refused to compete with Israeli athletes at the Olympics or other international competitions.
Since its Islamic Revolution in 1979 Iran has refused to recognise Israel as a country and the two have been arch-enemies for decades.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, then-Iranian world champion Miresmaeili refused to fight Israeli judoka Ehud Vaks, earning praise back home.
At the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was sent home after refusing to shake the hand of Israeli Or Sasson following the end of their bout.
The IJF’s Disciplinary Commission said on Wednesday that Mollaei was also ordered to withdraw from competing at the 2019 Paris Grand Slam to avoid having to face an Israeli athlete.
“The Commission has a strong reason to believe that the Iran Judo Federation will continue or repeatedly engage in misconduct or commit any other offence against the legitimate interests, principles or objectives of the IJF,” it added.
Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Dubai newsroom ; Editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis