The Iranian authorities have responded to the ongoing wave of nationwide protests with brutal force, killing nearly 500 people so far and detaining more than 18,000. Athletes and sports journalists are not immune from threats, arrest, torture and forced confessions. Some of them are facing heavy sentences and at least one might be handed a death penalty.
Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee and international sports federations have been keen on maintaining complete silence -- the same organizations which, according to their charters, have the duty to keep sports safe from politics and defend the rights of the athletes.
Neither has the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) taken any meaningful steps to protect sports journalists from imprisonment and torture, apart from issuing statements condemning the arrests of reporters in Iran.
Why FIFA appeases the Islamic Republic?
The ban on woman spectators at stadiums, the greatest gender apartheid in the history of football, started 43 years ago in Iran and remains in force. Throughout these years, FIFA’s response has been limited to superficial actions. As a result, “selected” women have sometimes been allowed to attend matches at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium -- and only at this stadium.
On March 1, 2018, FIFA President Gianni Infantino met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. At the meeting, Rouhani “asked Gianni Infantino not to allow issues unrelated to sports to influence FIFA,” according to Tasnim News Agency. A day later, Infantino said Iran had assured him that it will "soon" allow women to attend men’s football matches in the country. But, after nearly five years, this promise has yet to be fulfilled.
Over the past three months, Iranian football celebrities have been publicly threatened and harassed by the authorities. Footballer Ali Karimi was forced to flee his country after he expressed support for the protesters on social media, and all his properties and assets in Iran were confiscated by the order of the judiciary.
Iranian football legend Ali Daei was banned from leaving Iran. He had his passport confiscated after landing at the Tehran international airport on October 3 following a trip to Turkey. Then, on December 29, a Dubai-bound flight carrying Daei’s wife and daughter was forced to land in Kish Island, and the two were prevented from leaving Iran.
Less-known figures are also being threatened by the Islamic Republic. Amir Nasr-Azadani, a former player for Rah-Ahan, Tractor, and Gol-e Rayhan football teams, was arrested on November 20 and charged over the killings of a colonel of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and two members of the paramilitary Basij force. He now faces a possible death sentence.
On December 9, 13 and 22, IranWire asked FIFA to comment on Nasr-Azadani’s case. World football’s governing body has not provided any answer yet.
Earlier, FIFA failed to react to the killing of Mohammad Ghaemifar, a 22-year-old goalkeeper who died after being shot from behind in Dezful, Khuzestan Province, by security forces on October 22.
Over the past weeks, well-known Iranian footballers have been arrested by the Revolutionary Guards or Intelligence Ministry, including Voria Ghafouri, Hossein Mahini and Kaveh Rezaei, for comments they had published on social media.
Yahya Golmohammadi, the head coach of Tehran’s Persepolis FC, was summoned by the authorities, and banned from having any activity on social media. Soroush Rafiei, the captain of this team, was severely beaten in Tehran on November 15 after helping a girl who was being chased by security forces.
Retired footballers have not been spared by the Islamic Republic either. Former national team member Parviz Broumand and Hamidreza Ali Asgari, an ex-captain of Persepolis FC, have been arrested.
IranWire asked FIFA to comment on the arrests of the Iranian footballers. It did not answer.
The Islamic Republic’s Football Federation has claimed that players who show support for the Iranian protesters while in the field violate FIFA Statutes. For instance, Saeed Piramoun, a member of the Iranian beach football team, refused to sing the Islamic Republic anthem during an international competition and made a scissor-like gesture above his head with his fingers to mimic cutting his hair after scoring against Brazil.
The Football Federation issued a statement claiming that Piramoun violated FIFA’s rules and threatened him of “disciplinary action.” And Piramoun was not invited to the Iranian beach football team’s training camps.
IranWire has asked FIFA whether its charter prohibits players from supporting women’s rights and whether, like the Islamic Republic’s Football Federation, it condemns support for the women’s rights movement in Iran. It did not answer.
Meysam Tohidast, who has been summoned by the disciplinary committee of his club, Sanat Naft FC, after he mimed the gesture of hanging himself during a match on December 19 to protest the execution of protesters. In a statement, Sanat Naft FC claimed that his move violated FIFA Statutes.
IranWire asked world football’s governing body whether protesting against the execution of protesters and demanding to stop such executions violates the statutes of FIFA and its Ethics Committee. FIFA did not answer.
How has AIPS reacted to the arrests of sports journalists?
At least six sports journalists and photojournalists have been arrested since the start of the nationwide protests: Niloofar Hamedi, social and sports reporter for Shargh newspaper, on September 21; Aria Jafari, photojournalist with ISNA and head of the news agency’s photography service in Isfahan, on September 25; Mehdi Sofali, freelance sports journalist who previously worked with Jahan-e Football, on October 12; Saeedeh Fathi, sports journalist who previously worked with the newspaper Hamshahri, on October 16; Ehsan Pir-Bornash, sports journalist and satirist, on October 28; and Mehdi Amirpour, sports journalist on November 27.
In November, IranWire contacted the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) about these arrests and received some answers.
On November 13, AIPS President Gianni Merlo said, “We have not been silent.” When asked why Abdolhamid Ahmadi, president of Iranian Sports Journalists Association (ISJA) and a member of AIPS’ board of directors, did not react to the journalists’ arrests, he answered, “There is no silence. We are going to have an online meeting next week and we will talk about it.”