"I have sought protection here and try to somehow deal with the situation." Saeid Mollaei is introverted, he turns his angular face down. Before answering, he often breathes in and out several times. Mollaei has had stressful days behind her. After the World Cup in Tokyo, the world-class judoka fled Iran directly to Germany. Now he has spoken for the first time in the German public.
In the past few days he spent a lot of time with the family of his girlfriend from Germany. The mother of his girlfriend trained there in a judo club. The sport allows the world champion of 2018 distraction. At the end of October Mollaei wants to participate in the Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi. The fact that he has a valid visa for a long time makes the situation easier for him.
Since 2014, Mollaei fights at light middleweight, the weight category up to 81 kilograms. In 2018, he celebrated the biggest success of his career with the world championship title in Baku.
Mollaei should deliberately lose
At the World Cup in Tokyo, he should be forced by the Iranian Association for early abandonment, according to the World Federation IJF, in order not to meet in a possible final fight on the Israeli Sagi Muki. However, he initially defied the demand - and fought on. The judoka went to the semifinals, but deliberately lost the fight, he says. As well as the subsequent fight for bronze. Then he put his escape plans into action.
The Tehran-based parents are under pressure from the Iranian government just under two weeks after the World Cup, Mollaei complains. "They're called and threatened, their phones are being tapped," he says. With his family Mollaei could only communicate via a friend. He is the only connection to the 5,000 kilometers distant Iranian capital.
Charly Triballeau AFP
Mollaei at the World Cup in the semi-final fight he lost
"I know that maybe I saw my parents for the last time before Tokyo, but I had to choose a new life," he says. Since he changed his phone number, he receives threats via the social networks.
First talks before the World Cup begins
The story of his escape begins in Tokyo: Two days before departure, Mollei says, Iranian Judo Federation President Reza Salehi Amiri has called him and invited him to a restaurant. After a few minutes, he told Mollaei that there was a problem and the trip to Tokyo was canceled for all athletes. The order comes from the Supreme Leader of Iran Ali Khamenei and his representatives. Amiri, however, was able to negotiate an exception for Mollaei, as he was number one in the world and finally joined the political pressure in February at the Grand Slam in Paris.
Even there, the political conflict between Iran and Israel on the stage of the sport was held. Again, the Israeli Sagi Muki would have waited for Mollaei in the next round. Mollaei lost his fight after 17 seconds. He cried at the ensuing bow.
The government entrusted Mollaei and allowed him to travel to Tokyo as the only Iranian judoka - knowing he was not allowed to win. From the start Reza Salehi Amiri was in contact with Mollaeis coach Majed Zarian. Before the semifinals, the athletes have received further intimidation attempts on the phone, he says. In addition, an emissary from the Iranian embassy has gained access to the hall. Reza Salehi Amiri has called the coach and told him that security forces are in Mollaei's father's house.
"Until then I was 100 percent sure that I would become world champion, I was ready as never before, but I could not fight sincerely because I was afraid of the consequences for my family and myself," he says. "The media are being controlled and that's why the government uses this tool to put pressure on me, which is their strongest instrument right now," said Mollaei.
IJF wants to fulfill Mollaeis dream of Olympia
After the recent events in Paris and Tokyo, the 2018 World Champion has little hope of ever returning to his country: "It was clear that my fate would end somehow, and I was a victim of the situation and will not be able to fight for Iran again . "
Under the hashtag #ISupportMollaei ("I support Mollaei"), a campaign for the Judoka initiated by the World Federation IJF has started. IJF boss Marius Vizer, himself a controversial figure in sports politics, put himself behind the athletes and offered him the opportunity to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo - possibly as an athlete for an international refugee team. "It's our job to protect the athletes, that's very clear," says Vizer.
For Mollaei himself, it does not matter if he plays for the refugee team or another country at the Olympics. Next time he travels to Tokyo, he just wants to do his job.