BY NANCY GILLEN
World Players Association executive director Brendan Schwab has outlined five commitments the pressure group wants the sporting world to make following the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari in Iran.
Iranian state media reported that Afkari was executed on Saturday (September 12).
The 27-year-old had been given two death sentences for allegedly stabbing a security guard to death and his involvement in demonstrations against the country’s regime in 2018.
Afkari had claimed he was tortured into making a false confession and human-rights groups and activists believe he was unjustly targeted by the Iranian authorities to intimidate others who might choose to participate in peaceful protests.
His execution caused fury among athlete representation groups such as Global Athlete, which demanded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and United World Wrestling (UWW) expel Iran from world sport.
This demand is also included in the document detailing the World Players Association’s “five essential commitments”, signed by Schwab.
Iran’s immediate exclusion from the international sports community and from events such as next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo and international wrestling contests is the first commitment.
Schwab also argues that Iran be excluded from any consideration to host sporting events such as the 2027 Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup, which the country has bid for.
“To the extent possible, sporting sanctions should be tailored to avoid impacting the right of Iranian athletes to compete,” he said.
“However, it also needs to be recognised that the right of any athlete to compete can only be enjoyed if the internationally recognised human rights of all athletes – including the rights to life and freedom of association and expression – are respected, protected and guaranteed.”
Schwab then demands that the IOC and International Federations condemn the use of the death penalty and torture on athletes, and also show support for athlete activism.
The fourth requested commitment is a “joint acceleration of a collective effort to embed human and athlete rights in international sport.”
Schwab asks that the “long-awaited IOC’s human rights responsibility, commitment and strategy” be embedded within the governance of international sport, in place in time for Tokyo 2020, and developed in partnership with civil society including the Sport and Rights Alliance.
Finally, Schwab requests an investigation into the targeting of athlete activists for political purposes.
Both the IOC and UWW have suggested that an expulsion for Iran was unlikely, with IOC vice-president John Coates hinting an Olympic ban was doubtful as “this execution didn’t relate to a sporting event” and numerous other nations competing at the Olympics also still have the death penalty.
Schwab seemed to respond to this claim in the World Players Association’s document.
“Some within the international sports community have already claimed Navid’s execution is unrelated to sport,” he said.
“Athletes sit at the heart of sport and are, first and foremost, human beings.
“They are entitled to due process and a fair trial free of any threat of torture or execution.”
Afkari’s case had attracted global attention and led to the likes of United States President Donald Trump pleading for clemency.
The IOC called his execution “very sad news”.