"Expressing our sincerest apologies to the leader of the Revolution, the families of the martyrs [of the Iran-Iraq War], and the Iranian people, we are committed to ensuring that such regrettable incidents never occur within the weightlifting community again.”
So goes a statement released on August 30 by Sajjad Anoushirvani, the head of the Islamic Republic Weightlifting Federation.
Anoushirvani was addressing a situation involving photos taken a few days earlier showing Mustafa Rajaei Langeroodi, an Iranian weightlifter, alongside Israeli athlete Maksim Svirsky.
Langeroodi has been handed a lifetime ban from competing in both domestic and international competitions for standing next to Svirsky on the podium at the World Senior Weightlifting Championship in Poland.
Anoushirvani, the head of the Weightlifting Federation, also apologized to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in his statement.
But Anoushirvani also has his own checkered history in Iranian sports. On May 1, 2014, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported Anoushirvani’s abrupt departure and disappearance from Iran's national weightlifting team camp following a visit by officials from the National Anti-Doping Headquarters.
The Mehr report said that, during the doping tests conducted on all members of the national weightlifting team, it was revealed that Sajjad Anoushirvani, the 2012 London Olympics super heavyweight category runner-up and silver medalist in the 2011 world championships, had left the camp with the approval of doctors and technical staff.
Separate allegations also suggested that, at the World Weightlifting Federation, at least 130 doping test cases had been “destroyed” by senior federation officials lead to Anoushirvani leaving competitive weightlifting in 2015 in what Iran’s ISNA news agency called a “forced farewell.”
But a few years later, in 2018, as part of his rehabilitation in Iranian sports, he participated in a government supporters' rally backing the crackdown on protestors in Iran.
He also joined a Quds Day march and called upon Muslims worldwide to take to the streets in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
And despite having been previously suspected of doping during his own weightlifting career, Anoushirvani ascended to the position of head of the Islamic Republic Weightlifting Federation in March 2013, with the endorsement of the Ministry of Sports and Youth.
His candidacy was uncontested as rivals were either disqualified or withdrew in favor of Anoushirvani on election day.
Mahmoud Khosravifwaa, President of the Olympic Committee of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IOC), has in the meantime claimed to have resolved the IOC’s concerns about Iranian decisions to boycott Israeli competitors in international sports. Speaking on February 15 this year, Khosravifwaa, who was Ali Khamenei’s bodyguard in the 1980s, said that Iranian athletes not competing against Israelis was not government policy but a “religious matter” and that “our athletes do not want to compete with Israelis”.
Khosravifwaa also insisted that the Iranian government did not pressure athletes to avoid competing against Israeli opponents – a statement shown to be untrue by Langeroodi’s ban.
In its most recent statement, issued in March this year, the International Olympic Committee raised concerns over potential political interference in Iranian sports and athletics.
The Iranian National Olympic Committee has therefore been tasked with supporting its athletes and assuming responsibility for protecting their immunity in case any issues arise with the government pertaining to their sporting, social, or security circumstances. The committee is, for instance, mandated to intervene against government pressures on female athletes.
But is the National Olympic Committee doing its job?