Israeli judoka Sagi Muki congratulated Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei after he made his competitive debut under the International Judo Federation (IJF) Refugee Team at the Judo Grand Slam in Osaka, Japan.
"I would like to congratulate Saeid Mollaei who competed today as part of the Grand Slam Osaka Refugee Team," Muki wrote in an Instagram post. "This is a triumph of sports over politics. Thank you to the Israeli Judo, World and Olympics Association for their support."
Mollaei commented on Muki's post, calling the Israeli judoka his "best friend".
"Hi muki very very thank you and good luck for you all time my best friend."[sic]
The 27-year-old had fled to Germany after he was instructed by the Iranian authorities to withdraw from competing to avoid a potential contest against Muki in the semi-final of the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo in August.
This incident has led the International Judo Federation to suspend the Iran Judo Federation from all activities held by the international organization.
On the tatami mat, Mollaei finished only in seventh place. It is still unknown whether he and Muki will meet before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
These comments are a follow-up to an interview Mollaei gave to German news outlet Deutsche Welle in September, where the Iranian cited Muki as a friend and shared his hope to establish a friendship with the Israeli outside of competitive settings.
"I am friends with Sagi Muki, as I am with all other athletes. He supports me and I thank him for this," said Mollaei. "I hope that we can one day extend our friendship to the tatami mat. It doesn’t matter who wins, what matters is friendship."
First published: 22:13, 11.24.19