Mahmoud Khosravivafa, the head of the Iranian National Olympic Committee (NOC), recently spoke about his February meeting with Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The IOC said Bach expressed “the grave concerns of the IOC with regard to the humanitarian situation of a number of athletes,” and the “financial guarantees” that athletes must provide to their national federations before travelling abroad to participate in international sports competitions.
According to Fars news agency, Khosravivafa has claimed that Bach was explained about the arrest of athletes and that the authorities were not exerting pressure on sports.
Speaking to reporters, he said that Bach even expressed gratitude to the Islamic Republic and the National Olympic Committee for their efforts to promote women's sports.
Khosravivafa also claimed that, after hearing his explanations, Bach changed his mind about the Islamic Republic’s ban on Iranian athletes to compete against Israelis.
Given that Khosravivafa is a former bodyguard of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and a top sports official of the Islamic Republic, it is reasonable to be cautious about his claims.
Iranian sports officials have increasingly come under the radar of world sports bodies after they threatened, arrested and handed heavy prison terms to athletes who voiced support to the ongoing nationwide protests.
Twenty-two-year-old goalkeeper Mohammad Ghaemifar died 15 days after being shot by security forces during a protest, and karate champion Mohammad Mehdi Karami was executed after being sentenced to death for his alleged role in the killing of a member of the paramilitary Basij force.
The authorities seized the property and assets of footballer Ali Karimi, who was forced to flee the country, while the Tehran restaurant and shop of Iranian football legend Ali Daei have been sealed.
The European Union has included Sports and Youth Minister Hamid Sajjadi to its sanctions list for pressuring Iran’s athletes into silence, including Elnaz Rekabi, an Iranian climber who is under house arrest after she competed without a headdress at a competition in Seoul.
Under the Olympic Charter, the IOC has a responsibility to protect athletes from discrimination and non-sporting pressures.
According to IOC, the Iranian NOC “made clear commitments to pursue and expand its efforts to safeguard the athletes’ rights, from both a humanitarian and a sporting perspective, and to continue to act in accordance with the Olympic Charter and fully respect the principle of non-discrimination.”
Bach has requested a written report from the NOC on all these matters and asked for a further report about the status of women in sport in Iran.
This report is to be submitted at the next IOC Executive Board meeting in March 2023.