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Iran suspended from world judo over Israel boycott policy

In this photo taken on Sept. 12, 2019, Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei poses for a portrait photo at an undisclosed southern city in Germany. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) -- Iran has been suspended from international judo competitions because it boycotts bouts with Israeli athletes.

Less than a month after world champion Saeid Mollaei walked off the Iranian team in protest of the boycott policy, the International Judo Federation (IJF) said Wednesday that Iran is suspended ahead of a full hearing.

Iran's judo federation is accused of discriminating against Israeli athletes and breaking rules over manipulating competition results.

"The IJF Executive Committee considered that such a conduct is intolerable," the federation said.

Mollaei has said he was repeatedly ordered by Iranian officials to lose matches or withdraw from competitions, including last month's world championships, so as not to face Israelis. He is currently in hiding in Germany.

The president of Iran's judo federation, Arash Miresmaeili, condemned the IJF for suspending it and called it "hasty and unfair", semi-official Mehr news agency reported Wednesday.

Miresmaeli said the IJF sent an e-mail on Sept. 13 and asked Iran to send a report to defend itself, "Unfortunately, once we saw the World Federation's e-mail today, it is completely apart from the routine...".

Iran does not recognize Israel as a country, and Iranian sports teams have for several decades had a policy of not competing against Israelis.

IJF spokesman Vlad Marinescu said any ban won't apply to next year's Tokyo Olympics. That's because it's the Iranian Olympic Committee, not the Iranian judo federation, that formally enters the Olympic team.

Meanwhile, the IJF is exploring ways to allow Mollaei to compete on the International Olympic Committee's team of refugees.

The IOC has signaled a harder line on boycotts in recent years.

In June, IOC President Thomas Bach criticized governments who "clearly abuse sport for their political purposes," noting a case in May of a Tunisian court blocking four Israelis from competing at the taekwondo junior world championships.

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