As Iran targets athletes over mounting protests, group calls for FIFA to ban regime from World Cup
The Iranian diaspora athletic organization, United for Navid, over the past week sent letters to FIFA, the world’s governing body of soccer, and to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), urging the suspension of Iran’s regime from sports competition due to Tehran’s violent crackdown on athletes amid protests against the autocrat state.
United for Navid asked Mattias Grafström, the FIFA deputy secretary general, to boot Iran from international competition, including the upcoming November World Cup in Qatar.
“FIFA has banned Russia from participating in international competitions because of its invasion of Ukraine and its violation of human rights. We respect this stance that FIFA has taken and that it will not tolerate the senseless killing and torturing of thousands of innocent civilians. We Iranian athletes ask that you apply the same to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” wrote United for Navid.
The sports organization added “Iran is brutally killing and torturing protestors and is oppressing women by criminalizing watching football [soccer] or showing a few strands of hair. FIFA’s silence is an endorsement of these human rights violations.”
Iran finds itself in the same grouping as the United States in the World Cup. Iran has been hit with demonstrations against the regime since the country’s “morality police” allegedly murdered the 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for failing to properly cover her hair with a hijab.
In the letter to FIFA, United for Navid demanded “that FIFA immediately suspend Iran from all competitions, including the 2022 FIFA World Cup.”
Fox News Digital exclusively obtained the United for Navid campaign letter to the IOC. According to the letter sent to IOC president, Thomas Bach, “Over the last two weeks, Iranian athletes have been violently targeted: The Iranian government confiscated the passport of Ali Daei, the football legend of Iran, upon his return from Turkey. He has been banned from leaving the country.”
The letter continued, stating “Fifteen security agents raided the home of Hossein Mahini, a National Football [soccer] team member, arresting him and confiscating his personal property. The government has sealed the home of Ali Karimi, a beloved former National Football [soccer] team member, following the show of support for the people.”
United for Navid was founded after the Islamic Republic of Iran executed the champion Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari in September 2020. The organization of prominent Iranian athletes seeks justice for Afkari and persecuted athletes in Iran.
The former Iranian Greco-Roman national coach and American Sardar Pashaei oversees the United for Navid campaign. The IOC has faced criticism from United for Navid over its failure to punish Iran’s regime for its repression of athletes.
In the letter to the IOC, United for Navid wrote “The safety of Iranian athletes requires immediate action to avoid the past being repeated. We urge to stand by your values and recent ICO Strategic Framework on Human Rights and immediately suspend the Islamic Republic of Iran from all Olympic qualifiers and games. We acknowledge that this decision acutely impacts the lives and careers of Iranian athletes. The accountability of these egregious human rights violations are not theirs to bare however inaction on your behalf would be an endorsement of these violations.”
United for Navid said in its letter “The Iranian government’s targeting of their own athletes and women in the sporting arena has been long ongoing with little redress. You will recall that we wrote to you when security forces outside stadiums beat our female fans for attempting to enter athletic arenas.”
The organization of exiled star Iranian athletes added in its letter to Bach: “We wrote to you for Sahar Khodayari, our ‘Blue Girl,’ who never achieved her dream of watching her favorite team play. Sahar set herself on fire in protest of her jail sentence for attempting to enter the stadium.”
The United for Navid letter noted that on Tuesday Iran’s regime ordered Karim Bagheri, the head coach of the Persepolis soccer club, including athletes from the national team (Soroush Rafiei, Kamal Saghamnia, Alireza Biranvand, Farshad Faraji, Milad Sarlak, Mortezapour Aliganji, Siamak Nemati and Hamed Pakdel) “to appear at one of the Iranian security institutions for interrogation and provide explanations for their media posts in support of the nationwide protests.”
The Iranian foreign ministry and its mission to the United Nations declined to answer Fox News Digital press queries.
Rob Koehler, director general of Global Athlete, a sports organization seeking to advance the rights of athletes, told Fox News “In 2020 athletes from around the world called on the IOC to help save the life of innocent human, an athlete, and a wrestler Iranian Navid Afkari. Navid was murdered by the government for peacefully protesting yet the IOC refused to suspend the Iran National Olympic Committee for this heinous murder.”
He added “As history repeats itself, Iran is once again using their athletes popularity to set an example against protesting the Iranian government. This attempt to penalize an athlete for using their voice must be stopped. Just this week the Iranian athletes again reiterated their call for the IOC to suspend the Iran National Olympic Committee. If the IOC does nothing, it’s clear that their new Strategic Framework on Human Rights is not worth the paper it is written on, and they remain complicit with their lack of action.”
Fox News Digital media queries to the IOC and FIFA were not immediately returned.