Iranians campaign against regime's archaic sports practices

Soccer's world governing body FIFA has rules against discrimination and has given the country an ultimatum that it must fulfill by October.

By
September 8, 2019 09:52
Iranians campaign against regime's archaic sports practices

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group B - Morocco vs Iran - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 15, 2018 General view of a banner displayed referencing Iranian women during the match. (photo credit: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ)

Iranian citizens are at wit's end with the Islamic Republic regime's stance regarding their participation and unorthodox practices surrounding the sporting arena, both domestically and internationally.

The hashtag #BanIRSportsFederations has materialized over 60,000 times throughout the past 48 hours, calling for Iran to be banned from participating in world arenas, due to their archaic ideals regarding competitive sports in general - labeling it "state interference", according to a BBC report.

The hashtag and uproar directly follows two high-profile, however, not unprecedented events regarding Iranian ideals clashing with the sporting world - which Iranian citizens claim that it underscores a great polarity between the Iranian regime's ideals and those of their citizens.

One involved a domestic soccer game where a woman was arrested for trying to enter an Iranian soccer stadium disguised as a man, and another incident surrounded the World Judo Championships in Tokyo, where Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, a hero in the Islamic Republic, lost his match to Georgian Matthias Casse in one of the biggest judo surprises of the year, showing “obvious indifference” not to face Israeli judoka Sagi Muki in the gold medal match.

Based on an unwritten law, Tehran bans Iranian athletes from facing Israeli competitors in international competition.

However, most Iranians have gathered together to support the 29-year-old woman who was arrested trying to enter a domestic soccer match - despite FIFA handing down a deadline to Iran to "pave the way" for female attendees to be able to enter these sporting events, a deadline which expired August 31, Iran has continued to arrest female offenders.

The woman set herself on fire directly outside a court in Tehran to protest the prison sentence, and many have requested FIFA to hold the Iranian football federation accountable as a result of the court case.

"Without a doubt the self-immolation of a girl today after the extension of her custody on the charge of trying to enter a stadium to watch football is rooted in outdated and cringe-worthy thoughts that will not be understood by future generations," said Masoud Shojaei, the captain of the Iran men's football team.

The young Iranian woman was told she could face up to six months of jail time for watching a men's soccer game for violating modesty laws. The Iranian Rokna news agency, has only named the woman as "Sahar," the Telegraph reported.

"The 29-year-old is suffering from third-degree burns, and is currently under life support," said the CEO of Motahari Emergency and Burns Hospital, according to Radio Farda. Sahar reportedly is suffering from burns covering 90% of her body.

Rokna reported that Sahar's sister said, "They detained my sister on March 12, 2019, when she tried to enter Azadi Stadium, and watch Tehran's Esteqlal soccer club home match against the United Arab Emirates' Al Ain, FC."

This incident comes almost three weeks after Iran, under international pressure, released a group of women who were arrested for watching a men's soccer match. The women disguised themselves as men, just as Sahar did, but failed to fool Iranian officials, with their situation ending in a more pleasant manner.

Iran has consistently faced international scrutiny regarding its modesty laws. According to the Telegraph, Iran says that women watching men's soccer promotes promiscuity.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) brought the women's case to light, calling on Iran to lift the ban and release the women. HRW's Director of Global Initiatives Minky Worden said that “Iranian women should not be spending a second in prison because authorities accuse them of peacefully attempting to defy a ridiculous ban that denies women and girls equal rights to attend a football match.”

Soccer's world governing body FIFA commands a code of ethics against discrimination and has given the country an ultimatum that it must fulfill by October: Allow women to enter sports arenas or the Iranian team will be removed from international soccer events, Radio Farda reported.

Others are pointing to this month's case where Iranian judoka Mollaei said he feared for his safety after he was pressured to pull out of the 2019 World Judo Championships that took place two weeks ago, in order to avoid the possibility of facing Israeli opponent Sagi Muki - inadvertently losing his number-one world ranking in the process.

Mollaei requested asylum in Germany after the loss in the 2019 World Championships.

Since the early 2000s, Israeli athletes have faced boycotts by countless athletes hailing from Muslim countries – mainly Iran.

The International Judo Federation confirmed the news about Mollaei’s asylum request, according to French news site RMC Sport.

Head of the IJF Marius Vizer told the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun that Mollaei feared he and his family would be subjected to violence by the Iranian regime if he faced Muki, who went on to win the world championship on Wednesday in Tokyo.

In interviews given after he won the world title, Muki refused to speak of Mollaei’s situation but praised him as an outstanding human being and a top athlete.

At the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in October, the asylum-seeking Mollaei purportedly faked an injury to lose a fight that would have led directly to an encounter with Muki. The Israeli went on to win gold.

Then, at the Paris Grand Slam in February, Mollaei again feigned an injury and lost to Kazakhstan’s Ruslan Mussayev, ranked 209th in the world, in just 20 seconds. Mollaei seemed to easily recover from his injury to win the bronze medal.

Muki won the silver medal, so Mollaei once again had to rely on that same injury to avoid sharing the podium with the Israeli athlete.

Another Iranian, Mohammad Mohammadi Barimanlou decided not to even compete in this year’s tournament after it was announced that he would have to face an Israeli competitor in his bracket.

Two years ago Barimanlou did the same thing, retiring from a competition in Germany to avoid facing an Israeli in the European competition.

“It is an open secret in the sports world that Iranian athletes regularly feign injury and throw matches in order to avoid facing Israeli opponents in international competitions as Iranian sports authorities order them to do so,” according to Radio Farda.

“All coaches and the representatives of different teams across the world are sad about Mohammadi Barimanlou’s absence, asking how long such incidents are supposed to continue?” Iranian head coach Vahid Sarlak told Radio Farda. “Removing Mohammadi Barimanlou has had a negative impact on his teammates, including Saeid Mollaei who should defend his world title and gold medal.”

In the quarterfinals, Muki faced Egyptian Mohamed Abdelaal, who refused to shake Muki’s hand after having lost to him. Shaking hands at the end of a judo match is customary. Failing to shake the hand of one’s opponent is a sign of great disrespect.

The biggest question coming into this tournament was whether Muki, ranked second in the world, would face Mollaei in the final, and whether the Iranian judoka would forfeit to not to play an Israeli, as has happened in the past. But the Iranian lost in the semifinals and did not face Muki.

“It is a non-negotiable principle that Iranian athletes must refrain from competition with Israelis,” said the former commander of the Basij Resistance Force General Gholamhossein Gheibparvar on Iranian state-run television, according to Radio Farda, adding that supporters who favor Iranian athletes facing Israeli competitors in competition is “testing the waters for establishing relations with Israel. This is not something that one can test and see if the result is positive, then take further steps. No further steps will be taken, because we will break their legs as soon as they take their first step [toward Israel].”

In July, President of the Iran National Olympic Committee Syed Reza Salehi Amiri said Iranian athletes will not compete against Israeli athletes, despite Iran claiming in a letter addressed to the IJF that things might change.

“Refraining from participating in competitions with athletes of the Zionist regime is an issue of the Muslim world, and athletes from 20 countries refrain from doing so. I said that we are acting within the framework of the Iranian regime’s policy – and for this reason, we are not competing with athletes of the Zionist regime,” Amiri said.

The IJF said in a letter to Iran that: “The international judo community witnessed several times a disturbing phenomenon, which involves the sudden ‘injury’ or failure of weigh-in of Iranian athletes... [because of] the possible obligation of the given athletes to compete against certain countries.”

Iranians who are fed-up with the archaic ideals in which Iran displays within the sporting world are now spearheading the movement to have Iran banned throughout the international and domestic arenas completely, until change is enacted.

Rachel Wolf contributed to this report.


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