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Activists urge sanctions on Iran Olympic program for avoiding Israeli matchups

‘United for Navid’ campaign presents IOC with numerous examples of Iranian athletes throwing matches to avoid competing against Israelis

Samaneh Beyrami Baher carries the flag of Iran during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, February 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)
Samaneh Beyrami Baher carries the flag of Iran during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, February 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — A group of athletes and human rights activists is calling on the International Olympic Committee to sanction Iran’s Olympic program for what it says is the country’s long-running pattern of ordering athletes to avoid competing against Israelis in international events.

The head of the United for Navid campaign, formed to protest the execution of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari, sent a letter to IOC president Thomas Bach this week highlighting more than a half-dozen examples over the past 16 years of Iranian athletes intentionally losing matches that would set up meetings against Israelis, or withdrawing from competitions against athletes from that country.

“The fact that Iranian athletes are being forced to throw matches to avoid competing against Israeli athletes is a clear breach of the Olympic charter and Olympic values,” former Iranian wrestler Sardar Pashaei wrote to Bach.

An IOC spokesman said, “The IOC takes note of the letter and continues to evaluate the alleged issues.”

Last month, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned Iran’s suspension from international judo events in a case stemming from former world champion Saeid Mollaei’s departure from the Iranian team; Mollaei had claimed he was ordered to lose matches and withdraw from competitions to avoid facing Israelis.

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei at an undisclosed southern city in Germany, September 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

CAS judges decided the International Judo Federation overstepped its own authority with such a severe ban, which was imposed in October 2019.

The United for Navid campaign formed before Afkari’s execution last year. Authorities in the country accused him of murdering a water supply company employee. His supporters believe he was coerced into a forced confession and actually was punished for participating in protests against Iran’s Shiite theocracy in 2018.

A woman holds a portrait of Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari during a demonstration on the Dam Square in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on September 13, 2020, against its execution in the southern Iranian city of Shiraz and against the Iranian government. (Evert Elzinga / ANP / AFP)

At the time of the execution, the IOC said Bach “had made direct personal appeals to the Supreme Leader and to the President of Iran this week and asked for mercy for Navid Afkari.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the execution “an outrageous assault on human dignity, even by the despicable standards of this regime.”

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