Exiled Iranian judoka competing in Tel Aviv ‘will never forget Israeli kindness’

Ron Cantor —  February 26, 2021 — Leave a comment

An Iranian judo expert or judoka “will never forget” the kindness of the Israelis, after competing in Tel Aviv recently. Two years ago, he fled his home country because he failed to throw a match on purpose to avoid facing an Israeli in international competition

Saeid Mollaei said toda — thank you in Hebrew — to Israel after competing last week in the Grand Slam, an international competition which took place in Tel Aviv. The competition took place despite the airport being closed in Israel.

Competing under the Mongolian flag since he gained citizenship there after fleeing Iran in 2019, Mollaei won silver in the under-81-kilogram (roughly under 180 pounds) category.

Israel had been “very good to me since I arrived,” Mollaei said. The Israeli judo team “have been very kind. That is something I will never forget.”

Israeli Tohar Butbul won the bronze in the men’s under-73-kilogram (under 161 pounds) category, Timna Nelson Levy won a gold medal while Gili Cohen took a silver.

“It’s fun to win here in the country. It’s just too bad there isn’t a crowd because our crowd is the best in the world,” Nelson Levy said after winning gold. He also thanked the Israel Judo Association for managing to hold a great event, even amid the pandemic.

The competition took place in Israel under a swirl of controversy. Israel decided on January 25 to close its airport and even extended that closure until March 6. Israelis outside the country are unable to return, while anyone in Israel cannot leave. An exception was made to carry on with the scheduled tournament. The athletes and their coaching staff underwent extensive testing for the coronavirus before and after arriving in Israel. 

More than 500 athletes participated, and staff were present for the contest.

One doctor slammed the event as a way to allow strains of the virus to slip into the country.

“I am really against it. I think it is a mistake,” said Dror Mevorach, head of Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital’s coronavirus department.

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper defended the event, saying Israel struck the balance between public health and the economy as the competition will provide employment for thousands of Israelis.

“I think we found the proper balance,” he said.

Unfortunately, that same line of balanced reasoning has not been extended to other portions of the economy that are still closed due to Israel’s strict lockdowns.