Iranian-born judo wrestler Saeid Mollaei dedicated the silver medal he won Tuesday at the Tokyo Olympics to the state of Israel.
"Thank you to Israel for the good energy. This medal is dedicated also to Israel," Mollaei told Israel's Sports Channel. "I hope the Israelis are happy with this win." The 2018 judo world champion defected from Iran in 2019 after Iranian officials demanded he throw a World Judo Championship semifinal match to avoid wrestling an Israeli competitor. He reportedly trained with the Israeli judo team before the Tokyo Olympics.
Tensions between Israel and Iran have escalated in recent months, as Iran-backed militias have launched rocket attacks against the Jewish state. The attacks came on the heels of an 11-day conflict with Hamas in May during which more than four thousand missiles were fired at Israel.
Mollaei has been a Mongolian citizen since December 2019. He fled Iran for Europe in August 2019, fearing repercussions after he criticized the regime for ordering him to throw his championship match.
The International Judo Federation in April placed a four-year ban on Iran's judo team for demanding its athletes avoid matches against Israelis.