An Iranian defector representing Mongolia in the Olympic Games dedicated his silver medal victory to the nation of Israel on Tuesday in a powerful protest of anti-Semitism.
Saeid Mollaei — who defected from Iran in 2019 after Iranian coaches ordered him to lose in the semifinals of the 2019 World Championships to avoid facing Israel's Sagi Muki — took home the silver medal for 81kg judo this week. Following his victory, the athlete thanked Israel for its many years of support.
"Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel," he told the Israeli Sports Channel. "I hope the Israelis are happy with this win."
He added in Hebrew, "Todah," which means "thank you."
The dedication came after two other Olympic athletes from Algeria and Sudan withdrew from their competitions this month due to their having to face another Israeli judo star, Tohar Butbul. They reportedly resigned from the matches due to their support for the Palestinian cause.
Despite his own disappointing finish in the Olympic Games, Muki congratulated Mollaei on Tuesday,
"I'm super happy for Saeid," the athlete reportedly told Israeli journalists. "I know what he's gone through, and how much he wanted it. He's a very close friend of mine, and I'm so happy that he succeeded in achieving his dream. He deserves it — his journey is incredibly inspiring."
Mollaei, 29, and Muki, 25, developed a close friendship following the 2019 debacle, which resulted in the International Judo Confederation suspending Iran from competition for four years over its state-enforced anti-Semitism. The story of their unlikely friendship is reportedly being developed for television by MGM Studios and Israel's Tadmor Entertainment.
Mollaei fled Iran to Germany in 2019 after blowing the whistle on Iranian leaders. And later he attained citizenship from Mongolia, the country he is representing in this summer's Tokyo Olympic Games.
According to CNN, while competing in the Grand Slam judo tournament in Tel Aviv in February, Mollaei thanked Israel for the kindness they had shown him.
"They have been very good to me since I arrived. Today I have trained with the Israeli team and they have been very kind. That is something I will never forget," he said at the time.