Germany granted refugee status to Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, who was seeking asylum in the country after claiming Iranian officials earlier this year pressured him to withdraw from a competition in order to avoid fighting an Israeli opponent.

The International Judo Federation said in a statement on Saturday that Mollaei received official notice from the German Office for Migration and Refugees that he can now benefit from the status of “Recognized Refugee,” i24News reported.

“I am very happy, and I want to thank from the bottom of my heart everybody who helped me in those difficult moments,” Mollaei said following the news. “Now I can fully concentrate on judo and the preparation for the next IJF events and for the Olympic Games.”

Iran judoka Saeid Mollaei, Aug. 9. 2016. Credit: Mohammad Hassansadeh via Wikimedia Commons.

Mollaei openly criticized the Iranian government for demanding that he not face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki at the World Judo Championships in Tokyo on Aug. 28.

He told the International Judo Federation in an interview earlier this month, “Because of the law in my country … I was obliged not to fight against my Israeli opponent. They said: ‘This is the law, and those who do not comply with it will certainly have problems.’ ”

Although the Iran Judo Federation has denied instructing Mollaei to withdraw from the competition, the International Judo Federation has banned Iran indefinitely from international competitions until it can give strong guarantees that their athletes will be allowed to fight against Israeli opponents.

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