A day following the close of the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo, Japan, International Judo Federation chief Marius Vizer (AUT) took questions for an hour in an open session on Twitter under the hashtag #AskVizer.
It was a pretty remarkable, if somewhat chaotic session; here are some of the highlights, stripped down to inquiries and replies without all of the Twitter trappings (you can go to the linked discussion for the actual Tweets; some obvious typos have been cleaned up for readability):
● On the status of the Iranian federation in light of the threats made against 2018 World Champion Saeid Mollaei and his subsequent losses in the 81 kg division, Vizer’s answers to essentially the same question included:
“We are starting the procedures after #JudoWorlds and we will act accordingly but it’s as well a legal procedure that has to be followed.”
“Soon the procedure against Iranian Judo Federation will start and we will act accordingly to our rules, judo principles and Olympic Charter.”
“We will start the procedure and for the time being direct you to our release on the subject: https://ijf.org/news/show/the-true-story-of-a-fight-for-life. And we will apply the rules.”
“First we will solve the situation of Mollaei, after we will deal case-by-case. Our top priority is always to protect our athletes.”
● Concerning Mollaei personally, Vizer noted:
“At the moment he is in Germany and he is following the respective procedures.”
“The IJF and the full community are supporting him. The IJF publishing his interview is aimed at protecting him and his family.”
Another comment noted that “More Iranian athletes will suffer the same if you don’t take action against this hostage taking..I hope other sports federations act on this too, because it’s not just about judo.”
● On a side note concerning Iran, another plea came for help not only with judo, but also with football:
“Thank you sir, but we also have another problem which is women can not watch any men’s matches and can not enter any stadium. Please be our voice. We are really appreciated. #AskVizer”
Vizer’s reply was “We will soon solve the problem with Iran.”
● Iran wasn’t the only country to keep its athletes from competing with Israelis. A couple of Tweets commented like this:
“We have been reading a lot about the drama around Saeid Mollaei, but there was no comment from IJF about Fethi Nourine, the Algerian Judoka who didn’t show up for the fight against Tohar Butbul [73 kg]. Are you going to sanction the Algerian federation for political boycott?
Answer from Vizer: “The Algerian case will be as well a case of the ethics commission.”
● Asked if the IJF isn’t – in fact – powerless since Iran committed to non-discrimination in May and then pressured Mollaei to withdraw or lose, Vizer answered:
“We are not powerless at all because we were first IF to sign such an agreement. We give them the chance to follow it. It’s not happened & we’ll act accordingly.”
● Bad behavior was not confined to Iran and Algeria. Consider this inquiry:
“We all saw very shameful fact when World Champ [Guram] Tushishvili [GEO] said ‘f*** your mother’ during the match (Mayer-Tushishvili 3:41). An appropriate sanction is for it. What will be IJF’s answer? Are you going to hide the fact? or you’ll follow [the IJF] charter?”
Answer: “We will turn to our IJF Ethics Commission and follow the charter of judo.”
● Vizer was also asked about support for judo in Nigeria and gave a fairly amazing answer:
Question: “[H]ave the IJF supported Nigeria Judo Federation with cash or equipments in the last 6 years?”
Answer: “We have supported them but the problem of the Nigerian Judo is that they are sending visa applications to different sports events for a lot of people which are not at the level of the IJF tour & not necessarily traveling with sporting intentions.”
This was a remarkable session, not only for its timing, but also for 60-year-old Vizer’s candor. It’s hard to see any of the IF chiefs for Athletics (Sebastian Coe), Aquatics (Julio Maglione) or Gymnastics (Morinari Watanabe) doing anything like this, let along with such forthrightness.
A Sunday story in The Jerusalem Post noted that Mollaei is not seeking asylum in Germany.
Quoting an interview Mollaei gave to a London-based Iranian media agency, the story explained:
“While declaring his love for Iran, Mollaei also expressed regret that he may not be able to compete for Iran. Mollaei also noted that he has had a visa and a residence in Germany and was not seeking asylum, saying that reports to that effect were fabricated.
“‘I’m not moving to Germany,’ said Mollaei. ‘I did not ask for asylum, and I’m not a refugee. I own an apartment in Germany.’”
The story also quoted Muki, reached in Tokyo at the end of the World Championships. The new World Champion was optimistic about the future:
“I think that we are living in a time where there are many changes that are going on in the Middle East. Back in 2014, everyone thought that we wouldn’t be able to go to Abu Dhabi and compete. But the following year, in 2015, we were there, and I won a bronze medal, although we didn’t have our flag represented. In 2018, when we returned to Abu Dhabi and we not only were able to display the Israeli flag, but I won the gold medal and Hatikvah was played.
“Judo is not only a sport that can bring about the normalization of relations with Iran, as we saw in Abu Dhabi, but we also saw that they really like us and they don’t hate us. The Iranian government is extreme.
“I want to be an ambassador of peace between Israel and Iran. I have two dreams. One is to win the gold medal at the Olympics. But I also dream to face Mollaei, and it doesn’t matter who wins. I want to shake his hand, give him a hug. This way, we will not only show honor for each other, but together we can show that sport is above everything else.”