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Will the Sport governing bodies stand by and watch the rest of imprisoned Iranian athletes be hanged

On early Saturday, 7 January, a former Karate champion, Mohammad Mehdi Karami, 22, and a former Martial arts athlete and volunteer children's coach, Seyyed Mohammad Hosseini, 39, were hanged by Islamic Republic Regime in Iran. They were both imprisoned after having been arrested for joining the ongoing protests in Iran. According to Amnesty International, their court proceedings were “a fast-tracked unfair sham group trial … which bore no resemblance to judicial proceedings.”

According to Iran Human Rights, both of them were denied access to their lawyers throughout the proceedings and they were subjected to severe torture.

I began researching what kinds of mechanisms international sport governing bodies have established to address human rights violations in sport. Not a clear answer! Several examples can be found of double standards applied by international sport organizations in defining human rights violations based on different occasions/sports/nations and selective use of sport neutrality in defining what is a political action and what is not.

Even though I am striving to raise awareness about this issue to attract the attention of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Federations so that they will take action to stop the executions of athletes in Iran, the second-ranked execution country in the world, it leaves a bitter taste due to the IOC's decision to permit China, the first in execution ranking, to host the recent winter Olympic games.

However, a historic decision was made by the IOC in February 2022 following the invasion of Ukraine by imposing sanctions on the sport governing bodies of Russia and Belarus. IOC encouraged all International Federations to ban Russians and Belarusians to “protect the integrity of global sports competitions for the safety of all the participants”. the IOC Executive Board also issued a recommendation not to organize any sports event in Russia or Belarus.

How about Iran? Hundreds of athletes and coaches have been arrested since the protests began in September 2022, several have been killed in protests, and two are executed and several are facing the death penalty and many sentenced to long prison terms. As an example, Iranian footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani has been sentenced to 26 years in prison.

International Sport Organizations have shown to be very selective with their decisions. Rather than imposing similar sanctions, the International Fitness and Body Building Federation (IFBB) has allowed the Islamic Republic of Iran to host the IFBB Men Fitness Challenge World Championships in December 2022. As an example, In the ongoing anti-regime protest in the streets of Iran, three Iranian bodybuilding athletes, Ahmad Shokrollahi, Erfan Nazari, and Muhammadamin Takalli were killed and several were arrested, including Mehdi Aali and Mohammedreza Olfati.and Asoo (Sivan) Yari.

Would the IOC and international federations consider an invasion by another country to be more likely to violate athletes' safety and rights than the execution of athletes protesting or the sentencing of those arrested in protest to the death penalty by its national government? And are the IOC and other IFs more concerned about the safety of athletes in Ukraine than in non-European nations? In Ukraine, for example, the president of the IOC met athletes and visited sports facilities damaged by war. Consequently, the aid fund for Ukrainian athletes has tripled. However, the IOC president never visited any non-European countries at war, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, etc., nor did IOC increase their NOC funding due to war.

Last October, Elnaz Rekabi, the Iranian climber, bravely broke the national law that mandated that women wear hijabs and competed without hijab at Asian climbing championships, causing concerns with regard to her safety. The International Sport Climbing Federation (IFSC) reports that “it has been assured that Rekabi will not suffer any consequences as a result of a meeting between the IOC and the National Olympic Committee of Iran (NOCIRI), and they intend to continue monitoring the situation.”

Would the same be true for athletes given the death penalty? Will the IOC, the World Karate Federation (WKF), the International Fitness and Body Building the International Football Association (FIFA), The Martial Arts International Federation (MAIF), the International Wrestling Federation (UWW), the International Swimming Federation (FINA) and the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) act to save these athletes who have been sentenced to the death penalty?

The answer to all of these questions is unknown. Time will tell. But how much time do Iranian athletes have? Iran executed its first anti-regime protester on 08.12.2022 and two athletes were executed on 07.01.2023. Amnesty International's list of 26 individuals at risk of execution includes the names of three more athletes, which means that they are at imminent risk of execution.

  1. Mr. Saleh Mir Hashemi (Karate Coach, 36 years old)

  2. Mr. Abolfazl Mehri Hosseini Hajilou (Football, 17 years)

  3. Mr. Sahand Nour Mohammadzade (bodybuilding, 25 years)

Also, for the athletes/coaches who are sentenced to crimes which means their final verdict is likely to be a very long prison term.

  1. Mrs.Fahime Karimi (Volleyball Coach)

  2. Mr.Parham Paravi (Swimming, 25 years old )

  3. Soheil Jahangiri (Wrestling, 21 years old)

Considering the lame excuse that sport is not political, so the Sports governing bodies shouldn't get involved in politics even if it is related to human rights violations of people linked to sport, I will conclude this article with the words of Elie Weisel from his 1968 Nobel Peace Prize speech. “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victims. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant”.

Zohreh Abdollahkhani

PhD Research Fellow in Sport , Gender, and Sustainability,

University of South Eastern Norway

Faculty of Humanities, Sports and Educational Science

Department of Sports, Physical Education and Outdoor Studies

Campus Bø

Blog posts represent the views of the author and not that of Sport&EU or its members

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