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Judo champion who fled Iran gets new Olympic nationality

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The former world champion in judo who fled Iran last year in a dispute over competing against Israelis has been cleared to represent a new nation ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.

Saeid Mollaei’s change of nationality to Mongolia from refugee status was approved Tuesday by the International Olympic Committee. Mollaei’s switch did not need permission from Iranian Olympic officials, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.

The 2018 world champion went into hiding in Germany after defying Iranian team orders to lose intentionally during the defense of his title. Mollaei claimed he was ordered to avoid facing a high-ranked opponent from Israel.

Iran has not recognized Israel for more then 40 years and enforces a policy of boycotting competitions against its athletes. The International Judo Federation suspended Iran’s national federation in October until it received assurances to let its judokas accept bouts with Israeli opponents.

The Iranian judo body has an April 8 appeal hearing against the IJF at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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