BBC Sport did not show much interest in the Judo World Championships which took place in Tokyo between August 25th and 31st. During that period of time visitors to the BBC Sport website’s Judo page saw just two reports (see here and here), both of which concerned a Scottish Judoka.
However, on September 2nd a report on a five day-old story titled “Saeid Mollaei: Iranian judoka fears for safety after refusing to quit World Championships” was published on that page as well as on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. Readers were told that:
“Iran’s Saeid Mollaei says he fears for his and his family’s safety after ignoring calls from Iranian authorities to pull out of the World Judo Championships in Japan.
Mollaei said he was told to withdraw from his match against Russia’s Olympic champion Khasan Khalmurzaev to avoid the prospect of facing Israel’s Sagi Muki later in the tournament.”
The BBC’s report gave a distinctly tepid portrayal of the pressures put on Mollaei. In addition to citing “calls from Iranian authorities to pull out”, the report told readers that Mollaei said:
“But the National Olympic Committee of Iran and the Sport Minister told me to not compete, that I had to comply with the law.”
Only those readers who bothered to click on a link to the International Judo Federation website would learn that considerably more underhand tactics were employed by the Iranian authorities.
“Mollaei’s next fight was against the Olympic champion, Russian Khasan Khalmurzaev. A few minutes prior to the contest, the Iranian coach received a call from his country. On the other side of the line, the Iranian first deputy minister of sport, Davar Zani, gave him the order to withdraw Mollaei from the competition to avoid a potential contest between Iran and Israel. A demand accompanied by a double threat against Mollaei and his family. […]
…a delegation from the Iranian Embassy came to the venue. One delegate illegally, by means of the Iranian coaches accreditation, trespassed into the athlete warm up area to approach him with messages of intimidation.
Just prior to the semi-final, Mollaei’s coach received another phone call, this time from the Iranian Olympic Committee President, Reza Salehi Amiri. He put the phone on speaker and video, so the World Champion could follow the conversation.
The NOC President explained that National Security were at his parent’s house. Mollaei’s friends from Iran also texted him that people came to his house and asked his father to tell his son to follow the law or he would have problems.”
Apparently the BBC did not consider that information newsworthy. Linking to the IJF website, the BBC Sport report went on:
“Earlier in 2019, the National Olympic Committee of Iran had said it would comply with the Olympic charter and statutes of the International Judo Federation (IJF), paving the way for Iranian athletes to compete against Israeli athletes.”
“President of the Iran National Olympic Committee Syed Reza Salehi Amiri said that Iranian athletes will not compete against Israeli athletes, despite Iran claiming in a letter addressed to the International Judo Federation (IJF) that things might change.
The Judo World Championship will take place at the end of August, where the most anticipated encounter will be between Iranian Saeid Mollaei, who is ranked No. 1 in the 81 kg. weight group, and second ranked Israeli Sagi Muki. […]
“Refraining from participating in competitions with athletes of the Zionist regime is an issue of the Muslim world, and athletes from 20 countries refrain from doing so. I said that we are acting within the framework of the Iranian regime’s policy – and for this reason, we are not competing with athletes of the Zionist regime,” Amiri said.”
Had the BBC covered that story at the time it may have been better placed to report on the predictable pressures put on Mollaei during the championship as well as subsequent events unmentioned in this report.