Iranian Athletes under the Oppression of the Islamic Republic’s National Olympic Committee
Although the majority of Iranians are secular but sports in Iran serve the policies and ideologies of the Shi’ite clerics, and for that matter, sports officials who are all among government rent-seekers, observe the right of sports activities for Shi’ite muslims within the fabric of the Shi’ite regime’s policies in Iran. This does not mean that Suni muslims, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians do not engage in sports but all non Shi’ite athletes must adapt and conform their sports culture and conduct to the Shi’ite jurisprudence definitions of a Shi’ite believer. Of course, there are Baha’i believers who are completely banned from attending sports communities including training classes, universities and league and national teams.
In Iran’s sports, two taboos have never been or are breakable, otherwise, it would render serious consequences for the athlete, the coach and the referee. (i.e., removing the hijab and competing against an Israeli counterpart). Saeid Mollaei is an example to be remembered. He is the second athlete of a national team who stood up against the anti- Israel policies of the Islamic Republic and to protect his life, did not return to Iran. Before him, Bijan Seifikhani had also competed against an Israeli wrestler after which he was banned from wrestling for life.Also, the fate of women athletes such as Niloufar Mardani, Shohreh Bayat, Elnaz Rekabi, Sara Khademalsharieh, Kimia Alizadeh and Shiva Amini must also be noted, as they removed their hijab and under extreme pressure from the security forces in Iran, were either isolated from sports or had to leave Iran.
The dominating political regime in Iran, is one of the most autocratic ideological regimes in the contemporary world that uses sports as an instrument to showcase its authority and power for the international community. It escalates its strict policies domestically and by utilizing lobbies outside of Iran, silences the international organizations including the International Olympic Committee and international sports federations, lest the human rights challenges become obstacles for the presence of Islamic Republic’s sports teams in world sports competitions. Meanwhile, throughout the 44 years of the Islamic Republic reign, there is no proof or evidence that suggests the IOC has supported the freedom of choice for Iranian women athletes’ attire in sports fields. Iranian women are not present in sports such as swimming, water polo, boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, diving, equestrian and cycling and to that effect, also, the IOC has remained passive without initiating effective measures in support of the Iranian female athletes.
On one hand, gender segregation is completely evident in Iran’s sports. Men are not allowed at all to watch women’s sports competitions in stadiums and the television often does not broadcast women’s sports events. On the other hand, women’s protests to enter stadiums to watch men’s sports matches have not been heard and women continue to be denied access to sports arenas and watch men’s sports competitions. Several complaints about gender segregation in Iran’s sports especially with regards to women being prohibited from entering and watching football league games, volleyball and wrestling have been filed with UWW, FIVB, FIFA and the IOC, but surprisingly, in most cases, no actions were taken or the complaints remained unanswered.
Sahar Khodayari, self-immolated and died protesting against such gender segregation. Her death is an utter tragedy for the world of sports. Known as the Blue Girl on social media, she was a football fan who set herself on fire in protest to her arrest and prison sentence for attempting to enter the stadium to watch the Esteghlal team football match in the AFC Champions League. She died at the hospital on April 21, 2019.
Iran’s National Olympic Committee and many of the Islamic Republic’s sports federations are harnessed by men who are either members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGS) or subsidiary organizations. The kind of management exercised by the Islamic Republic’s National Olympic Committee, has practically turned women to second class citizens, compared to men. Women’s sports are managed with an organizational chart by male managers, not to mention that election mechanisms in all sports levels in Iran are engineered and staged. Meanwhile, an organization titled ‘‘Harasat” (Protection/Vigilance), within the Ministry of Intelligence, has been incorporated into Iran’s sports structure and for unknown reasons the IOC shows no interest to investigate or inquire about it.
Harasat, the Ideological Police in Iran’s Sports
The Ministry of Sports and Iran’s National Olympic and Paralympic Committees do not permit any Iranian sports teams to participate in international sports competitions and the Olympics without the escort of Harasat agents. In several instances too, the Harasat agents attend international sports events under fake titles of team manager, bodybuilding coach and masseurs. They watch the athletes to make sure they don’t cross the ideological red lines, or remove the hijab, compete with Israeli counterparts or even dance in celebrations. Hossein Shahrabi is the current head of the Harasat organization of Iran’s Ministry of Sports. Prior to this appointment, he was in charge of the physical protection of the Islamic Republic Broadcasting Organization which is directly controlled and managed under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s supervision and considered one of the most strategic entities for the Islamic Republic regime. He has also been the vice-president of the Sepak Takraw federation of Iran.
Asghar Farrokhi is the head of the Herasat of the National Olympic Committee of Iran. His name has been cited as a member of the board of directors in the said Committee’s website.
National Olympic Committee of Iran
It is important to address what goes on in the National Olympic Committee of Iran because this committee must adhere to observing the articles included in the Olympic Charter and safeguard the human dignity of Iranian athletes and provide grounds for every athlete to engage in sports without discrimination. This is while Mahin Farhadizad, the deputy head of the National Olympic Committee of Iran who’s in charge of women’s sports in this committee, in a recent outrageous interview with the Islamic Republic media expressed that enhancing muscles and bodybuilding is not physically suitable for women. She even went further and canceled licenses for bodybuilding clubs for women.
Who is Mahmoud Khosravi Vafa, the Head of National Olympic Committee of Iran
Commander Khosravi Vafa is an official member of the Revolutionary Guards Corps. In the 1980’s when Ayatollah Khamenei, the current leader of the Islamic republic was president, he became a member of Khamenei’s team of bodyguards. For two decades since 2001, Khosravi Vafa was the head of Iran’s Paralympic Committee and for a while a member of the High Council of Baseej Sports, an army unit affiliated with the IRGC. Baseej is an Islamic Republic’s ideological force that has always repressed the Iranian people’s civil protests in the streets. In 2022, he replaced Reza Salehi Amiri, an agent of the Islamic Republic Ministry of Intelligence.
Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, in a letter dated September 16, 2022, congratulated Khosravi Vafa for his new post and honored him for his services in Iran’s National Paralympic Committee.
Ghafour Kargari, head of Iran’s Paralympic Committee Sanctioned by the European Union
Commander Ghafour Kargari, a member of the Quds Force, one of IRGC’s elite wings, participated in the presidential elections for Paralympic Committee on December 13, 2022 and won 29 of the total of 50 votes and replaced Khosravi Vafa. He is also in the European Union list of sanctions.
Written by Farzad Youshanlou
SportsEmic editorial team – Jan 2023