Iranian top judo Saeid Mollaei hopes that he can go to the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year. He is currently in hiding due to problems with the authorities in his country.
At the end of last month, Iran demanded that Mollaei withdraw from the World Cup in Tokyo, because chances were that the defending champion in the class up to 81 kilograms would face Israeli Sagi Muki in the final. Iran does not recognize Israel as a country.
Mollaei did not respond to the wishes of his country and was subsequently put under considerable pressure by the authorities, who threatened to put his family in trouble. He deliberately lost his match in the semi-finals and has been in hiding ever since.
"The judo federation (IJF) and the international Olympic committee (IOC) have guaranteed me that I can compete in the Olympic Games in Tokyo," Mollaei said to Reuters news agency from a secret address in Germany on Thursday.
"It is my biggest goal and I will do what I can. I am already in full training. I want to go to the Games to grab the only medal I still miss: Olympic gold."
Should the 27-year-old Mollaei fall outside the Iranian selection for the Games, there is a possibility that the IOC will allow him to participate in Tokyo under the neutral flag.
"Hope for as few difficulties as possible"
Mollaei hopes the situation will not escalate. "Maybe my Olympic participation means that I can never go back to Iran, but I hope that a medal will cause as few difficulties as possible for my family and friends."
The judoka saw no other way out than to lose at the World Cup. "I had no choice. I had to obey the law, which states that I am not allowed to take on Israeli opponents," he says.
"I was scared. Afraid of what could happen to my family and what could happen to myself. So I just lost. I could win, but decided to lose."
It is not the first time that such an incident has occurred in judo. At the 2004 Games, Iranian world champion Arash Mirasmaeili refused to take on Israeli Ehud Vaks and three years ago Islam El Shehaby was sent home from Egypt after refusing to shake hands with Or Sasson from Israel.