With the Winter Olympics now in full swing, Hamid Sajjadi, Iran’s minister of sports and youth, and Reza Saleh Amiri, president of the National Olympic Committee of Iran, travelled to Beijing in the hopes of meet with Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee. But for the second time in a year, the pair came back empty-handed.
Before the snub, media outlets close to the National Olympic Committee and the Ministry of Sports had declared the reason for the officials’ trip to Beijing "removing obstacles to Iranian sports" and "consulting on lifting the suspension of the Judo Federation".
Though pressing issues for Iranian sports, neither of these issues or others cited in Iranian media fall within the purview of either the IOC or Thomas Bach himself. It appears that either two of Iran’s most important sporting officials had not understood his role, or the visit was always intended to be a symbolic one.
Three Iranian Sports Federations in the Cold
On January 29, Tasnim News Agency explained that Minister of Sports Hamid Sajjadi and Iranian Olympic Committee President Reza Salehi Amiri were heading to Beijing in a bid to “consult on and solve the problems of Iranian sports federations”, most importantly judo, but also cycling and gymnastics.
Last April, the World Judo Federation announced Iran had been suspended for four years over its documented track record of political interference in sports: specifically, blocking Iranian athletes from competing against Israelis. The Iranian Gymnastics Federation is now also at risk of suspension for sex discrimination, as it bars Iranian women from taking part in both national and international contests.
In May 2021, Hamshahri newspaper reported that the Ministry of Sports had tried to relaunch the disbanded national women’s team with “special clothing” but had been unsuccessful. The International Gymnastics Federation determined it would be impossible for Iranian athletes to take part because of the strict Islamic dress code being forced on them, in a sport that normally demands leotards be worn for maximum freedom of movement. At the Asian Games, Iranian women were only able to take part in aerobic step exercises.
Meanwhile, Iranian media outlets report that the International Cycling Association is not willing to recognize Mahmoud Rashidi, the new president of the Iranian Cycling Federation, because of the allegedly “engineered” nature of his election last May and strong signs of “government interference” in the vote.
In a meeting with Thomas Bach, Reza Salehi Amiri and Hamid Sajjadi sought to resolve the problems of the three federations, all of which have suffered international problems due to direct interference by the government and the application of political or ideological pressures; but Thomas Bach refused to meet with the two Iranian officials.
A Timetable Mix-Up – or Rebuffal by the IOC?
Contrary to what was claimed in Iranian media, at the time of writing there has been no indication from Thomas Bach or the IOC that they had an appointment scheduled with the Iranian delegation during the Winter Olympics.
The IRGC-affiliated Mehr News Agency quoted Reza Salehi Amiri as saying they definitely did, but missed each other. “We contacted the International Olympic Committee to meet with Thomas Bach, and they announced their readiness," Salehi Amiri said, “but this meeting was scheduled for 9.30am on Monday, while on Sunday evening we had to return to Iran."
It seems unusual that an Iranian government delegation would have gone to Beijing on spec, then left early before the agreed meeting time. But Dana News Agency, quoting officials in the Ministry of Sports, had a further explanation: “the prevalence of Omicron” in China and “increased quarantine restrictions” in the Olympic Village, leading to restricted flights back to Tehran. This, Dana said, meant the Iranian officials either had to come back on the Sunday night, or wait for the next flight to Tehran the following Thursday,
Arguably an in-person meeting with the president of the IOC would have justified the lengthier-than-expected trip – especially as Hamid Sajjadi and Reza Saleh Amiri also failed to see Thomas Back during the Tokyo Olympics last year. Then, sports ministry officials confirmed, the pair had flown to Tokyo “hoping” for a meeting with Bach but again, had failed to coordinate. In 2012, the then-Minister of Sports and Olympic Committee president had an identical disappointment in London.
An official inside the Ministry of Sports spoke to IranWire on the condition of strict anonymity about the latest botched attempt to speak to Thomas Bach. Whatever was published in Iranian state media, they said, at no point had a meeting with Bach or the IOC been scheduled for the Monday either.