In other countries around the world, athletes are considered national treasures. But the ruling regime in Iran abuses, arrests and executes Iranian athletes.
On January 9, the Iranian regime sentenced political prisoner Mohammad Javad Vafaei Sani, a Mashhad boxing champion, to death after two years of imprisonment and torture. Vafaie was arrested following the major 2019 uprisings in Iran and sentenced to death for supporting Iran’s main opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), and “corruption on earth”, a false allegation of theocracy in the power to justify her tapestries.
But Vafaie is not the first detained athlete-protester threatened with execution. On September 12, 2021, the Iranian regime hanged Iranian wrestling champion Navid Afkari, despite international cries to stop his execution.
Another wrestling champion, Mohsen Ghasemi, has died after nearly two years in a coma. Ghasemi won a gold medal in Asian wrestling in 2011 at the 74 kg ranking. The regime thugs beat him savagely in a rehabilitation camp in Bojnourd.
In another case, the Zahedan Criminal Court sentenced Yazdan Mirzaei, a gold medalist wushu fighter, to death on drug-related charges. He vehemently denied these false accusations.
Since coming to power, the medieval theocracy has shown no qualms about executing anyone deemed a threat to its survival, and athletes are no exception. In 1988, the regime massacred 30,000 political prisoners, 90% of whom were affiliated with the MEK. Several victims, including Foroozan Abdi, a member of the Iranian women’s national volleyball team, and Mahshid Razaghi, a member of the Iranian national football team, were among them.
In 1982, the Iranian regime executed Habib Khabiri, the beloved captain of the Iranian national football team during the World Cup in Argentina, who was a role model for many young Iranians. Khabiri had refused to denounce the MEK.
Before his execution, Navid Akari said the mullahs were “looking for a neck for their rope”, highlighting the regime’s need to terrorize Iran’s increasingly restless society.
Oppressing and abusing athletes is not limited to torture and executions. Due to the regime’s institutionalized corruption, incompetence and mismanagement, many Iranian national heroes are forced to become street vendors to earn a living.
In November 2021, Iranian state media published Masoud Rastegar’s hard life story. Rastegar, a deaf judoka from the country’s national team who won the bronze medal at the 2017 Paralympic competitions in Turkey, picks up trash to help his family.
“When we go to the sports office and say give us a handful of workout clothes, they keep saying we don’t have any,” he told online TV Apart, managed by the state. “At the time of the championship, the same officials welcomed me and put up a banner and took a photo underneath,” he added.
Another wrestling champion, Mohsen Madhani, was beaten by regime forces for street selling. “An athlete and a world champion don’t deserve to be a street vendor,” he said in a video posted to social media in November 2020.
World wrestling championship medalist Mohsen Madhani works as a street vendor for a living. Various social classes were forced into this line of work by #Iran due to extreme poverty.
More than 60 million out of 84 million people live in poverty. pic.twitter.com/i0jm16b01d
— IRAN HRM (@IranHrm) November 22, 2020
Iranian athletes are forced to turn to street traffic as the country sits on an ocean of oil and gas. As a result, many have left Iran and now compete under other flags.
For the ruling theocracy in Iran, loyalty to the regime is the only criterion of success. When Iranian athletes refuse to sell their honor and dignity, they are prosecuted, forced to live in poverty or flee their homeland.
By refusing to bow to Iran’s murderous regime, Iranian athletes have earned a special place in people’s hearts and minds. A trophy wears dust, but memories last forever. It is the story of Iranian athletes who have chosen to be champions of the people rather than puppets of the regime.