BY MICHAEL HOUSTON
Thousands of people from 39 countries have signed a letter from the American Jewish Committee (AJC), urging the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban Iran from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics following the state execution of wrestler Navid Afkari.
The letter was delivered to IOC President Thomas Bach prior to the IOC Executive Board meeting yesterday, although the matter did not receive an update after the German reiterated his efforts to stop the execution occurring.
“Iran’s record of abuse against its own athletes is abysmal,” read the AJC letter to Bach.
The alleged arrest, torture and execution of Iranian national wrestling champion Afkari, who was given a death sentence for an alleged murder during the 2018 Iranian protests, is outlined in the letter.
His death prompted a huge outcry in sport with claims he was tortured into making a false confession.
Human-rights groups and activists also believe Afkari was unjustly targeted by the Iranian authorities to intimidate others who might choose to participate in peaceful protests.
“His only crime was that he dared to protest the oppressive regime that ultimately killed him,” the AJC said.
Political and religious persecution was also mentioned in the letter, which has prompted athletes such as Iran’s only female Olympic medallist, taekwondo player Kimia Alizadeh, to leave the country.
Others factors mentioned include the ban on Iranians competing against Israeli athletes, which led to Saeid Mollaei – an Iranian judo fighter – to flee.
The former world champion had been forced to lose a match against Israel’s Sagi Muki.
Restrictions on women in sport were also mentioned in the letter.
“To allow Iran to participate in the Tokyo Games would be to signal approval of the country’s gross and systematic violations of human rights,” the letter reads.
“Barring Iran would send a powerful message: that athletes are to be protected, that sport is to be practiced freely, and that discrimination and abuse by any country that is part of the Olympic family will not be tolerated.
“Only thus will the Olympic spirit, a spirit of peace, freedom and coexistence, truly be upheld.”
Global Athlete, a representative body for athletes worldwide, criticised the IOC for not taking further action against Iran following Afkari’s execution.
“The IOC’s failure to stand up for athletes’ human rights – their willingness to stand by while athletes are jailed, tortured, and executed – is a gross abdication of duty,” said two-time Olympian Noah Hoffman, a member of Global Athlete.
“Navid was targeted because he was an athlete.
“Any semblance of due process or the rule of law was nothing more than a sham and the IOC turned away, claiming that Navid is not their problem.
“In doing so, they have sent a message to all athletes that they do not have our backs; they don’t care what happens to us as long as the Games go on and the farce of global unity is preserved.”
Previously, the vice-president of the IOC John Coates hinted that a ban on Iran for Tokyo 2020 was “unlikely” .
“The difficulty for us is this execution didn’t relate to a sporting event,” said Coates.
“He was certainly a great athlete.
“And the other difficulty is of course that there is probably 50 of the National Olympic Committees that come from territories that still have capital punishment.
“We’ve been getting two sides to the story as to whether he got a fair go or didn’t get a fair go.”
The Tokyo 2020 Olympics are currently scheduled for 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from July 23 to August 8.