Two independent sources have told IranWire that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is looking into the “sporting identity” of Javad Foroughi, who was named as a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps by Iranian state media after his victory on Saturday.
Foroughi won Iran’s first gold medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after triumphing in the men's 10m air pistol final. At 41, he also became the oldest Iranian to win an Olympic gong.
Just minutes after the win was announced, the IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency ran a glowing article on the man it called “the Guards’ Nurse”, reporting that Foroughi had served with the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force defending the Assad regime in Syria.
In a clip from an old interview reposted by Fars, the sharpshooter said that besides fighting himself, he had tended to the injured on both sides of the conflict. He referred to the other side as “Islamic State”, a catch-all term used by the Islamic Republic to describe any groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
News of Foroughi’s win led to mixed reactions in Iran – as much for his uncanny resemblance to a paramilitary Basij member who opened fire on civilian protesters during the 2009 uprisings, as his status as a member of the IRGC.
Immediately after the victory Foroughi was congratulated by high-level Iranian politicians including Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and hardline President-elect Ebrahim Raisi. On Tuesday, the Iranian embassy in Tokyo gave him $10,000, or 240 million tomans in Iranian currency, as a reward.
But Iranians on social media – including former national team athletes and the United For Navid campaign – have instead called for an investigation, and for Foroughi’s gold medal to be revoked if necessary.
The news also led to some consternation overseas. On Monday the German tabloid newspaper Bild ran a story in which it pointed out that the IRGC is sanctioned by the US as a terror organization, asking: “Is there blood on this gold?”.
“Iranian marksman Javad Foroughi (41) won the Olympic air pistol final by an overwhelming margin,” wrote Bild’s reporter. “What Foroughi used to do with the gun is now the big question.”
When this media outlet approached the IOC for comment, it replied: “Qualified athletes who adhere to the international rules are allowed to participate if they are selected by their countries. There are many athletes from many countries who are members of the military in their countries."
But a well-placed source in Tokyo told IranWire late on Monday that the IOC has since asked the Iranian National Olympic Committee to provide it with “clear and complete” information about Foroughi’s IRGC past.
According to the IOC charter, athletes from participating states’ armed forces are allowed to compete in the Olympics. But this does not apply to paramilitary forces, military entities subject to international sanctions, or designated terror groups.
Fars News Agency itself has confirmed that Foroughi was a member of the Quds Force. On August 24, 2011, the European Union imposed sanctions on the Quds Force for having provided technical and material support to Bashar al-Assad in his lethal campaign against Syrians opposed to his rule.
On April 8, 2019, the United Stated then designated both the Revolutionary Guards and the Quds Force. Foroughi is therefore a member of an entity sanctioned by both the European Union and the United States.
A source on Iran’s National Olympic Committee told IranWire that NOC president Reza Salehi Amiri has already put together a dossier on Foroughi’s activities over the past two years as a member of the Iranian Shooting Federation.
This has reportedly already been delivered to the IOC. Whether either the limited period covered, or its “completeness”, will be enough to appease the Olympic coordinating body remains to be seen.