Olympic Rings are pictured in front of The Olympic House, headquarters of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the opening of the executive board meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in Lausanne, Switzerland September 8, 2022

Olympic Committee Threatens Action Against Iran For Persecuting Athletes

Wednesday, 07/26/2023

The International Olympic Committee says it is observing a dramatic increase of persecution of Iranian athletes and may act before the 2024 Olympic games in Paris.

In response to an Iran International press query about the arrest of Saman Pashaei, an Iranian-Kurd and the world’s third-ranked junior wrestling champion, an IOC spokesperson said, “We continue to monitor the situation very closely.” 

The IOC spokesperson referred Iran International to its “position relating to the situation of sport and the athletes in Iran.” The IOC position on its website is dated March 29 and states: “The IOC EB [Executive Board] reserves the right to take any appropriate action relating to the participation of the Iranian NOC [National Olympic Committee] and athletes in the upcoming Olympic Games Paris 2024, depending on the developments in this situation.”

Saman Pashaei, a world class wrestling champion

The IOC has faced intense criticism over the years from the United for Navid campaign and Rob Koehler, Director General of Global Athlete, for failing to punish Iran’s regime for its executions and imprisonment of athletes who have demonstrated against Khamenei’s regime. 

United for Navid is an organization composed of highly decorated Iranian athletes who seek justice for the champion Iranian Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari who was hanged by the clerical regime in September 2020.

An undated photo of the Afkari brothers before their ordeal began, Navid is seen on the left

Sardar Pashaei, the executive manager of United for Navid and the brother of Saman, told Iran International “I firmly state that the International Olympic Committee’s inaction in the face of the Iranian regime’s behavior will lead to a worsening situation, not an improvement. With each passing day, Iran’s regime will grow bolder in punishing athletes, resulting in a grave moral and practical failure on the part of the IOC.”

Just weeks ago, Iran’s regime imposed the death penalty on school boxing champion Mohammad Javad Vafaei-Sani for allegedly setting government property, including a penitentiary, on fire. 

A letter signed by 108 human rights experts and NGOs was sent to Volker Türk,
the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, on July 19, urging the UN official to intervene to save the boxer’s life. According to the letter, “He was arrested in March 2020 (Persian calendar month of Esfand 1398) for taking part in the November 2019 anti-government protests. He was tortured for several months and eventually handed down an execution sentence for ‘efsad-fil-arz’ (‘corruption on Earth’) by Branch Four of the Mashhad Revolutionary Court.”

Iranian boxer Mohammad Javad Vafaei-Sani

The letter added, “In recent months, the Iranian authorities have executed at least seven other protesters on similar bogus charges with total impunity. These political executions are a callous attempt by the authorities to frighten and silence an increasingly restive population no longer willing to accept their corrupt and oppressive rule.”

According to the March IOC statement, “The IOC has expressed serious concerns over the past few months vis-à-vis the situation of the Iranian athletes and the Olympic community as a whole in the current context of the upheavals and demonstrations in the country and has urged the NOC to take appropriate action with the highest authorities to protect the athletes and members of the Olympic community from a humanitarian perspective.”

The IOC conducted a meeting with the Iranian regime-controlled National Olympic Committee NOC. According to the IOC, it requested and received a written report from the NOC “on all the issues addressed during the meeting, including the status of women in sport.”

The IOC said, “Having studied the report, the IOC will continue to monitor the situation and to request immediate intervention from the NOC whenever there is any specific issue affecting the athletes and members of the Olympic community in the country.”

Pashaei, who was the former head coach of Iran’s national Greco-Roman wrestling team, said Instead of meeting with Iranian officials, the International Olympic Committee should meet with us, the athletes, and listen to our truth. Over the past few months, athletes have endured imprisonment, torture, and even had their families taken hostage, while Iranian officials have only worked to conceal these atrocities instead of supporting athletes.” 

In February, the IOC warned the Iranian regime-controlled NOC to respect the Olympic charter due to the Iranian regime’s promotion of discrimination against Israeli athletes. In April 2022, the Iranian karate champion Sajjad Ganjzadeh criticized the Islamic Republic’s boycott policy targeting Israeli athletes. He wrote on Instagram “We cannot tolerate this anymore. Not competing is more difficult than competing.”

According to the February IOC press statement, ”The Iranian NOC made clear commitments to pursue and expand its efforts to safeguard the athletes’ rights, from both a humanitarian and a sporting perspective, and to continue to act in accordance with the Olympic Charter and fully respect the principle of non-discrimination.”

Iran International noted at the time that sports is under the direct control of the government, and in many instances, the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) and the Iranian Olympic committee would be hardly able to deliver its promises. The US government sanctioned the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

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