Self-exiled Iranian athletes call for Iran ban on Olympics

Some athletes who once competed for their homeland Iran are asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to investigate their allegations of abuse.

Iran has a habit of treating female athletes inferior to their male counterparts, banning athletes from competing against Israel at international events, and threatening athletes involved in anti-government protests. Some athletes who fled to Western countries tell their stories.

Talk to CNN, Iranian judoka Vahid Sarlak said he is “100% afraid” to fight for his beliefs. Iran does not tolerate freedom of expression and is known to pressure activists and their families in intimidating ways, sometimes including incarceration and torture. “Every day my mother asks me not to do this, she worries every day. But I say, ‘I was born once and I will die once.’ I swore that I will fight for my freedom as long as I live. “

Sarlak was competing at the 2005 World Judo Championships in Cairo for Iran when the Iranian Federation ordered him to lose so as not to face an Israeli opponent in the next round.

Iranian karate champion Mahdi Jafargholizadeh tried to escape pressure from Iran by paying a smuggler to take him to Canada. He was a vocal critic of the Iranian authorities. When his plan was foiled at the airport, he was arrested in 2004 and accused suspected of wanting to be a spy for Israel, the BBC reports.

According to Jafargholizadeh, the next six months were literally torture, as he was detained and forced to confess to crimes he did not commit, which he refused to do. He was fired in 2005 without explanation, said there had been a mistake and was allowed to compete in elite karate tournaments again. Yet he no longer wanted to compete for Iran and became determined to leave his country for good.

In 2008, during a trip to Germany with the Iranian national team, he escaped, then went to Finland and applied for asylum there. It was appointed the coach of the Finnish national karate team. He told the BBC he feels free. Iranian authorities did not respond to media inquiries.

Shiva Amini, a futsal [indoors, hard court football] player from Iran, was harassed in Iran and left for Switzerland. She encountered many hardships as a refugee and eventually became a children’s trainer. according to IranWire.

Amini said IranWire that the female teams were at a disadvantage compared to the male teams and that they would suffer from cramped accommodation, poor quality food during training and competitions, etc.

She added that she had been assaulted for applying for asylum in a Western country: “They said I had applied for asylum in six countries, but the six countries refused. I have been harassed in Switzerland, both by people linked to the Islamic Republic and also older Iranians, from scams to attempted sexual abuse. ”She went on to say that living in Switzerland was a lonely experience and that she had to force herself to continue.

“They [the Iranian authorities] wanted to bury me under these pressures, but I got up and fought. They said I took off the hijab to become a refugee. I didn’t care. They said I was a second-rate player and would be forgotten; I still didn’t care. She says she started playing football as soon as her Swiss papers were filled out: “You don’t know what it is like when a professional footballer, who doesn’t have excess fat, loses 10 kilos because of stress and pressure. I lost 10 pounds of muscle. But I’m back. “

Amini also said CNN about the threats she received, downplaying their horror: “Text messages, such as ‘We’re going to cut your head off and send your family a picture of it.’ Do you want just one example or do you want to hear the rest? “

The execution of Navid Afkari

Some athletes weren’t as lucky as Jafargholizadeh or Amini. Navid Afkari, an Iranian wrestler, was executed on murder charges in September 2020. The activist page said that the real reason for the authorities’ position against Afkari was that he was participating in the 2018 anti-regime protests: “Navid’s case was shrouded in secrecy, a travesty of justice as well as physical and psychological violence in prison. Through torture, Navid was forced to confess that he killed an undercover security guard during the protests, which has never been proven.

Even Afkari’s family has not escaped the grip of the Iranian authorities: “The regime even arrested Navid’s brothers, Vahid and Habib, who were both sentenced to 54 and 27 years respectively.

The international outcry and messages of support from various bodies and organizations such as the European Union, the International Olympic Committee, as well as the President of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Dana White, to spare her life have gone to no avail. .

IOC requests

Wrestling champion and national trainer Sardar Pashaei is one of the actors calling on the International Olympic Committee to strengthen itself. He had to flee to the United States in 2009. According to the BBCPashaei cited arbitrary travel bans, state surveillance and career obstruction as the reasons for his departure. He believes that his father’s political background may be at the root of the ill-treatment inflicted by the authorities.

Pashaei said Iranian authorities pressured him to lose his top wrestler in a match “to avoid facing an Israeli competitor in the next round”. Iran prohibits its athletes from competing against Israel, a country it does not recognize as legitimate.

the United for Navid The organization, “a group of leading Iranian activists and athletes, led by women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad,” calls on international organizations, such as the IOC and FIFA, to suspend the Islamic Republic of international sports. According to BBC the campaign wrote three letters to the IOC urging the organization to investigate 20 cases of alleged athlete abuse in Iran.

Although the Iranian authorities made no comment to the news agency, the letter they received claims that these cases show that Iran has violated the Olympic charter, which calls on the organizers to “take action against all forms of discrimination and violence in sport ”. A spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee, which is examining the allegations, said that if the OIC determined that this was the case, an investigation would be opened to “fully establish the facts and take the necessary measures.”

Vignette: Iranian judoka Vahid Sarlak at the World Championships in Rotterdam, in a photo taken on August 26, 2009. He defected shortly after. Tamas Zahonyi / International Judo Federation

Title photo: Shiva Amini coaches an Italian men’s soccer team in this photo posted on May 31, 2021. shiva_amini_11 / Instagram

Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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