Ehsan Hadadi has finished 14th in his group for men’s discus throw at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 135kg, 1.93m athlete left the competition after coming 26th overall on Thursday. "I’m not upset," he told reporters. "I came to Tokyo to honor the Olympics."
For numerous, well-founded reasons, Hadadi is a divisive figure inside Iran. But as the country’s sole field and track Olympic medalist, he has received plenty of support from sporting and security bodies.
Iran’s 25-Billion Toman, US-Trained Discus Thrower
Ehsan Hadadi is probably one of Iran’s most expensive athletes. in May this year, Hamshahri newspaper reported that the 35-year-old’s training bill, footed by the Iranian Athletics Federation over 39 months, had come to around $704,000. On top of this, he receives a $10,000 a month stipend from the Federation.
Last August, Hadadi requested – and was granted – 250,000 euros (US$297,000) from the Ministry of Sports and the Athletics Federation to go to Germany for heel spur surgery. It came despite the explicit, stated opposition of the Iranian Sports Medicine Federation. The average cost of this operation in Iran is five to 10 million tomans ($217-$430).
Then in February this year, the Ministry of Sports and Youth quietly sent Hadadi on an all-expenses-paid trip to the United States to train for the Tokyo Olympics with his American coach, Mac Wilkins.
"I went to the US against my will," Hadadi proclaimed at the time. This was not quite true; he had in fact petitioned the Ministry and the National Olympic Committee to let him go to America for months on end.
Hadadi has boasted that if asked, the Athletics Federation would stump up $20,000 a month for him if it might help bring home a medal. Other sporting champions, meanwhile, have struggled to make ends meet at home.
Amir Reza Qomi, Iran’s first ever Olympian in martial arts, now works at Tehran’s Shahr-e Rey metro station. National taekwondo practitioner Soroush Ahmadi had to explain to reporters that he drives a cab “so as not to have to climb people’s walls”. Olympic sprinter Farzaneh Fassihi, who also competed in Tokyo on Friday, used her marriage loan to pay for training.
An Explosive Court Case – Then Silence
In 2016, around the time of the Rio Olympics, it emerged that Ehsan Hadadi – who had previously left Iran for America in 2013 – had been sentenced by an Iranian court to 100 lashes and imprisonment after being found guilty of raping a 30-year-old woman.
The plaintiff had said Hadadi had first promised to marry her, but then gone silent for a while. “One day,” she said, “he called me and said: 'Come to my house, we need to talk.' I went there and realised there was no-one there but me, Ehsan and Ehsan's friend. He gave me some juice. I fainted after drinking the juice and he raped me."
Her lawyer Samad Khorramshahi said his client had been left “severely traumatized” by the incident. It took some time for Hadadi to return to Iran after the Olympics concluded – ILNA news agency reported that this was a pre-condition of his being allowed to compete for Iran in 2016 – and it was expected that he would have to pay a heavy fine if he did so.
Shortly afterwards, however, the National Olympic Committee announced that Ehsan Hadadi’s case had been closed following the involvement of "relevant institutions”. He returned to Iran apparently scot-free. Which institutions, or why they intervened, the Committee never said.
Spokesman for the Regime at Public Rallies
Hadadi has also worked overtime to ensure he remains in the Iranian government’s good books. He is one of the very few athletes who regularly attend pro-regime rallies, including the annual marches on February 11 to mark the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
During the November 2019 protests, Hadadi attended and spoke at a pro-Islamic Republic gathering in Qazvin. During his speech, he called Iranian citizens protesting against a threefold hike in gas prices "rioters" and "foreign agents" and called on the security forces to deal with them.
The comments came just weeks after Mohsen Kaveh, a director of Iran's national wrestling team, begged for financial support from MPs. “Our national wrestlers can’t even pay for transport to come to the training ground," he said.
Despite 20 years in the sport, billions of tomans funnelled into his training and expenses, and the state’s exertions to protect him from the legal consequences of a rape conviction, Ehsan Hadadi still managed to finish last on Friday. Not that that should matter; as he said in an interview ahead of the Tokyo Games, “I don’t dwell on bad news. I forget it as fast as I can.”