On June 27, 1981, exactly one day before a powerful bomb went off at the headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party in Tehran, killing 74 leading officials of the Islamic Republic, an assassination attempt targeted today’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as he was making a speech in a mosque. A bomb placed in a tape recorder exploded in front of him, seriously injuring one of his arms, his vocal cords and his lungs.
“When they took me to the hospital I felt that I was dying,” Khamenei has said, “hanging between heaven and earth.”
According to various accounts, three bodyguards helped Khamenei to escape death: Mohsen Javadian, Javad Panahi-Nejad and Mahmoud Khosravivafa, who is now the president of the National Olympic Committee of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Who Is Mahmoud Khosravivafa?
For the past 25 years, Khosravivafa has been the president of Iran’s National Paralympic Committee and it is said that nobody can take this job away from him. This committee and Iran’s Sports Federation for the Disabled are the two custodians of sports for the disabled community in Iran.
His resumé mentions that he is also the president of the Sports Federation for the Disabled, member of the Executive Committee of the National Olympic Committee, member of the Council of National Sports Basij (“Mobilization”) and member of the Sports Coordination Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
Khosravivafa became the president of Iran’s National Olympic Committee on August 28, 2022. Each National Olympic Committee works under the direct supervision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and, according to the IOC’s charter, national committees must avoid politics. However, the highest position in Iranian sports has been awarded to a security figure close to the supreme leader. Of course, considering who his predecessors were, the appointment of such a political or security figure to the presidency of the most important sports organization in Iran was not in any way unexpected.
His Relations with Ali Khamenei
The most important factor in the relations between Khosravivafa and Khamenei is that he was his bodyguard.
Khosravivafa has some fond memories of this time. In an interview during the November 2019 nationwide protests over the steep increase in fuel prices, he told the story of how he overturned a brand new Blazer with Khamenei onboard but the supreme leader never admonished him for this mishap. “You drive well!” was the only comment that Khamenei made.
There are various versions about the role Khosravivafa played in saving the life of Khamenei on June 27, 1981. In the following days he assumed the presidency of the National Paralympic Committee, and people close to him said he had personally carried the body of the severely injured Khamenei to a car.
According to another version, he said that he rushed to the scene after he received a message from his colleague Mohsen Javadian: “The wireless was on my desk. My friends announced: ‘Hafez, Hafez 7, case 50/50.’” “Hafez 7” was the code word for the team protecting Khamenei and, according to Khosravivafa , “50/50” was their code word for serious events such as terrorist attacks.
The stories that Khamenei’s bodyguard has told about the moment when the bomb went off are very contradictory. In a video published on June 27, 2023, Javadian said that when the tape recorder was placed in front of Khamenei, it emitted a short beep: “[Khamenei] went back a few steps and said, ‘Fix it so I can talk.’” And Khosravivafa said that the bomb injured the right side of Khamenei’s body “instead of his heart” because he stepped back.
But, in a video that was published on June 27, 2006, 17 years before the above-mentioned video, Khosravivafa tells a different story: “I just went to have a look at the tape recorder. I turned it around a little bit and then, without thinking, I moved it to the right, next to the microphone and a little further from” Khamenei.
Khosravivafa revises history as well. In a new video posted on Khamenei’s website, he says that the assassination attempt was the work of the People’s Mojahedin Organization, not the members of Forghan Group, a militant and extremist Shia anti-clerical group that had earlier assassinated a number of senior officials. However, in 2006, a memo by Khamenei’s security team claimed that a note was found inside the tape recorder saying, “A gift from the Forghan Group.”
The Forghan Group had been effectively eliminated by early 1980, more than a year before the attempted assassination.
Lying to the International Olympic Committee
In a press conference on February 15, 2023, he claimed he had given “new information” to IOC President Thomas Bach that removed the danger of Iran’s suspension of the organization.
He also claimed that Bach expressed gratitude to the Islamic Republic and Iran’s National Olympic Committee for their efforts to promote women's sports.
Khosravivafa went further, claiming that, after hearing his explanations, Bach changed his mind about the Islamic Republic’s ban on Iranian athletes competing against Israelis.
Khamenei’s former bodyguard said it was not a “government ban” but a personal choice by the athletes: “About the issue of Israel, I told Thomas Bach that this refusal to compete is wholly based on religion and faith. With these explanations, Bach’s view changed completely. This issue would have been resolved if previous officials [of the National Olympic Committee] had talked about the issue correctly.”
With Khosravivafa at the helm of the National Olympic Committee, there can be no doubt that Iranian sports and athletes will continue to be sacrificed on the altar of Islamic ideology.