Saeid Mollaei looked under-par at the Championships ©Getty Images

The Israel Judo Association (IJA) chief has claimed that under-81 kilograms world number one Saeid Mollaei was forced by Iranian officials to throw his final two matches at the International Judo Federation (IJF) World Championships.

Iranian Mollaei would have faced Israel's Sagi Muki in the competition final at the Nippon Budokan had he won his semi-final on Wednesday (August 28) against Belgium's Matthias Casse.

Mollaei has previously withdrawn or claimed injury in order to avoid facing Muki, given the political and diplomatic tensions between the two nations, with Iran forbidding their athletes from facing Israeli opposition.

The IJF said previously it had reached an agreement with Iran to end the boycott, although the head of the Islamic Republic's National Olympic Committee later denied this.

IJA President Moshe Fonti told Israeli radio, however, that Mollaei was willing to fight Muki in Tokyo until Government officials came to the arena and his family home in Iran and forced him to underperform.

Fonti told Army Radio: "Mollaei intended to continue the contest, even if he had to face Sagi Muki at the final.

"We heard he'd asked the head of the Iranian judo association to ensure his family was kept safe.

"From what we understand, within a short time Iranian intelligence officials came both to his home in Iran and to the judo arena and warned him.

"I don’t know what happened there, but eventually he lost both battles." 

Iran's Mollaei could have faced Israel's Sagi Muki in the final ©Getty Images
Iran's Mollaei could have faced Israel's Sagi Muki in the final ©Getty Images

Mollaei fought in the second semi-final, after Muki beat Egypt's Mohamed Abdelaal in the first match.

Sporting a giant bandage around his head from a cut to his ear, Mollaei was far more sluggish in his final-four match than he had been in the preliminary fights earlier in the day.

Mollaei, who was the reigning world champion after winning the under-81kg competition in Baku in 2018, barely attempted a judo technique against Casse before being defeated in the golden score period.

He then fought for bronze against world number 29 Luka Maisuradze of Georgia, and was again passive in defeat.

It meant he did not collect a medal, so did not have to stand on the podium next to Muki, who beat Casse to become Israel's first ever world judo champion.

Fonti sympathised with Mollaei and did not blame him if he had deliberately lost fights.

He said: "He had promised the IJF he would compete, but there were people at his family's home in Iran.

"You can’t judge an athlete in such a situation."

An official IJF statement read: "Mollaei was under lots of pressure coming from his country, pressure on him and his family.

"But he fought and, by the end of the day, he was mentally exhausted because it is obviously not the best way to focus and prepare for a contest."