A number of Iranian athletes, coaches and sports veterans have disavowed a statement in support of Ebrahim Raisi that was attributed to them by a hardline news website.

Jahan News, a conservative-aligned media outlet, claimed on Monday, May 10 that a group of sporting champions and bosses had issued a joint call for Iran’s chief justice to run in the presidential election.

But more than 10 of those named in the report had no idea the statement even existed. Speaking to IranWire on the condition of anonymity, they said the sentiments it contained had nothing to do with them.

What Did the Letter Say?

The published “letter” to Ebrahim Raisi, the current head of the judiciary of the Islamic Republic, is stuffed with flattering terminology as well as appeals to the sporting world.

Raisi is introduced in very the first line under the prefix "Hazrat Ayatollah" [“His excellency Ayatollah”] and his name followed up with "Damat Barakat" [“May his blessings be persistent”].

The text proclaims that Iran’s chief justice is being asked to put himself forward as a presidential candidate to combat “politicization” in sports, and to eradicate the roots of "despair, immorality, and aristocracy". The statement goes on to position Raisi personally as the “savior” of sports and the creator of a “comprehensive system” for its protection.

Between the lines saturated with flattery at the beginning, middle and end of the text, the name of an umbrella organization never previously encountered in Iranian sports has been inserted by the authors.

"The National Center for Physical Education and Sports of the Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces,” it proclaims, “accompanied by a large sporting community consisting of known figures, activists, champions, coaches, managers, and experts in the field, invite your Excellency, a powerful, courageous and resourceful manager, to run in the election."

The Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces is a conservative political institution founded in 2019 by principlist politician Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel. It works to secure conservative seats in the Iranian parliament, and up until now was not known to have had any kind of sporting arm at all – let alone a “National Center”.

The Council also has no declared link or connection to any external sports clubs or institutions in Iran. It was established by twelve radical fundamentalists who have never appeared to have had the slightest interest in sharing a platform with athletes.

Despite this, the statement published by Jahan News bore the names of some 170 current and former and Iranian sportspeople and directors, who were said to be signatories.

Iran’s Busiest Man in Sports – With a Debt to Raisi – Named as Letter Author

Many of the “signatories” are household names in Iran and have a history of involvement in politics. Hamid Derakhshan, for instance, a former Persepolis player and head coach, vocally supported Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the 2009 presidential election.

The list also includes the names of Parviz Mazloumi, a former Esteghlal player and coach who regularly takes part in the politically-charged annual Quds Day rallies, and Hossein Rezazadeh, a top weightlifter who famously held a picture of Ali Khamenei aloft on the world championship podium in 2005, going on to become the federation head and a Tehran City Councillor.

The most noteworthy name on the list, however, is that of Shahrokh Shahnazi, a former secretary-general of the country’s National Olympic Committee and one of the most active figures in Iranian sports over the last 40 years, who is said to have co-authored the text with ex-Committee chairman Kioumars Hashemi.

Not all of his managerial activities have been dedicated to sports, however; he has also served as executive deputy of IRNA news agency, Mayor of Kharaj, deputy managing director of Ministry of Roads’ Road Safety Equipment Joint Stock Company, CEO of the Iran Ferroalloy Industries Company, deputy head of finance for Khavar Industrial Group, and a deputy at the Stock Exchange and Metals Organization.

He has held down an array of sporting positions since 1992, including CEO and chairman of Isfahan’s Zob-e Ahan FC, vice president of the Football Federation, president of the Table Tennis Federation, secretary of the Overseas Council of Physical Education, chairman of the National Olympic Committee’s marketing and resource committee, head of sports for the National Iranian Oil Company, a member of the sports council for the National Petrochemical Company, and the secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee.

Needless to say, from the 1980s through to the 2010s, Shahnazi was deeply involved not only in the Iranian sporting arena but with economic enterprises overseen by the state and the military. Separately he also sat on the boards of eight separate investment companies, including those of the Esteghlal Hotel in Tehran, a textile firm and a car manufacturing firm.

But in May 2018, he was suddenly reported to have stepped down from the Olympic Committee due to mounting financial issues and a criminal case brought against him. He was released the day after his judiciary-ordered arrest, but never returned to work and remained behind the scenes – working with none other than Ebrahim Raisi.

Athletes Insist Ignorance of Pro-Raisi Letter

Three years on, Shahnazi appears to have tried to return the favor by penning a letter featuring the names of scores of sportspeople in support of Raisi.

More than 10 of those named on the list say told IranWire they had no knowledge of the statement at all. Because of Raisi’s powerful position and his own record from the 1980s up to the present, they asked not to be named in this report.  

Jahan News is currently the sole publisher of the letter. This conservative media outlet is owned by the Society of Devotees of the Islamic Revolution, a powerful right-wing political group. The site’s statute claims its purpose is to provide “transparent information", "enlightenment" and "insight", and to "provoke thoughts".

Arguably, it has now done so. Four years ago in the run-up to the 2017 presidential election, Ebrahim Raeisi met with the underground music singer Amir Tataloo in a desperate bid to secure more votes. The gamble did not pay off. Now he appears to have convinced Shahrokh Shahnazi to publish letters of support on his behalf, plastered with imaginary signatures.

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