Around the world, top athletes are often considered national treasures in their respective countries and adored by thousands of people. For Iranian athletes, this is a different story. The Iranian regime have often mistreated Iranian athletes, with many being arrested and tortured, or even executed.
Earlier this month, on January 9, boxing champion Mohammad Javad Vafaei Sani was sentenced to death following two years of imprisonment and torture. Vafaei, who hails from Mashhad, was arrested in 2019, following the major uprisings that year, and was imprisoned on the charges of supporting the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said, “But Vafaie is not the first detained athlete-protester facing execution. On September 12, 2021, The Iranian regime hanged Iran’s wrestling champion Navid Afkari, despite international outcries to stop his execution.”
Mohsen Ghasemi, another wrestling champion, was brutally beaten at a rehabilitation camp in Bojnourd, and spent almost two years in a coma before he passed away. Ghasemi was best known for winning a gold medal in an Asian wrestling competition back in 2011.
Even a top wushu fighter, gold-medallist Yazdan Mirzaei, was sentenced to death on bogus drug-related charges.
The NCRI said, “Since coming to power, the medieval theocracy has demonstrated no scruples in executing anyone deemed a threat to its survival, and athletes are no exception.”
In the summer of 1988, 30,000 political prisoners were massacred by the regime for being affiliated with the MEK. Among the victims were Foroozan Abdi, team member on the Iranian women’s national volleyball team, and Mahshid Razaghi, team member of Iran’s national football team.
Just 6 years earlier, during the World Cup in Argentina in 1982, the captain of Iran’s national football team, Habib Khabiri was executed by the regime. A role model for many Iranian youths, Khabiri stood by his beliefs and refused to denounce the MEK, costing him his life.
The NCRI said, “Oppressing and mistreating athletes is not limited to torture and executions. Due to the regime’s institutionalized corruption, ineptitude, and mismanagement, many Iranian national heroes are forced to become street vendors to make a meagre living.”
In November 2021, the story of Masoud Rastegar was published in Iran’s state media. A judoka in Iran’s national team, Rastegar, who is deaf, competed at the Paralympics competitions in Turkey in 2017 winning a bronze medal. Barely 5 years later, he is forced to collect garbage from the streets in order to provide money for his family.
Mohsen Madhani, a wrestling champion, has also had to resort to street vending to earn what money he can to support himself, which on one occasion, led him to be brutally beaten by the regime’s security forces. In a video posted on social media in November 2020, he said, “An athlete and a world champion don’t deserve to be a street vendor.”
Despite Iran being abundant with resources such as oil and gas, the regime would rather spend this wealth elsewhere than support some of their national heroes. This has caused many athletes to emigrate to other countries to compete under other flags.
Regardless of how many medals these athletes have won in their respective fields, its clearly not enough for the regime. Only those that remain loyal to the theocratic regime are held in high regard. For the rest, they are forced to live in poverty, or flee the country to avoid facing prosecution.
The NCRI said, “By refusing to bow to Iran’s murderous regime, the Iranian athletes have earned a special place in people’s hearts and minds. A trophy carries dust, but memories last forever. This is the story of Iranian athletes who have chosen to be people’s champions rather than the regime’s puppets.”