The gold medal for the 10-meter air pistol shooting event at the Tokyo Olympics was won by Iran’s Javad Foroughi. However, his win turned into an online scandal after North Korean shooter Jin Jong-oh, who won gold at the 2012 London Olympics, called him a “terrorist.” 41-year-old Foroughi is a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In April 2019, the Trump administration had classified the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.
“How can a terrorist win first place (at the Olympics)? That’s the most absurd and ridiculous thing,” Jong-oh told reporters at the Incheon International Airport. His comments came after activist group United for Navid called Foroughi’s gold medal a “catastrophe” and demanded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) initiate an investigation into the matter.
The group is named after wrestler Navid Afkari, who was executed by the Iranian regime in 2020 after he participated in anti-government protests. Navid was convicted for allegedly murdering a security official. However, his family accused the Iranian government of torturing Navid, forcing him to sign a false confession of a crime he never committed.
In June last year, Justice for Iran and the International Federation for Human Rights reported that Tehran’s state television broadcasted 355 forced confessions over the past ten years.
With regard to Foroughi winning the gold medal, United for Navid stated that the incident is “not only a catastrophe for Iranian sports but also for the international community, and especially the reputation of International Olympic Committee (IOC)… United for Navid calls for an immediate investigation by the IOC, and until an investigation is completed the suspension of any medal award.”
The organization also said that it warned the IOC in early 2021 that Iranian politicians and military personnel might serve as athletic representatives of the country at the Olympics. “Officials of the IOC never took any action,” United for Navid said in a statement. It accused the IRGC of having a “history of violence,” killing not only Iranian people, but also innocent people in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. It also pointed out that the U.S. designated the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
The IRGC suppresses dissent within Iran and carries out shadowy missions outside the country. The organization reports directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with troops numbering around 125,000. IRGC’s operatives have been linked to terrorist attacks, including a bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut in 1983.
Although the United Nations (UN) has not designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, the UN has previously frozen the assets of the organization. The European Union has placed sanctions on the IRGC, and Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have classified the IRGC as a terrorist entity.
Iran’s persecution of athletes
Even before the Olympics began, there was a strong push to get Iran banned from the games due to the country’s human rights violations. In October last year, thousands of people from 39 nations signed a petition by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) urging the IOC to ban the Middle East nation, citing Iran’s “abysmal” record of abuses against its own athletes.
The letter highlighted the execution of Navid Afkari, the prohibition of women from participating in some sports, political and religious persecution that has forced many athletes to flee the nation, and so on. Allowing Iran to participate in the games would “signal approval” of Tehran’s human rights abuses, the letter warned.
“Barring Iran would send a powerful message: that athletes are to be protected, that sport is to be practiced freely, and that discrimination and abuse by any country that is part of the Olympic family will not be tolerated. Only thus will the Olympic spirit, a spirit of peace, freedom, and coexistence, truly be upheld,” the letter said.
Even if Iranian athletes escape the country, they are still often harassed and intimidated abroad. One exiled female athlete said to BBC that she received threatening messages from Iran’s intelligence services. The threats intensified after she joined United for Navid. She refused to be identified, fearing for the safety of her family members back home.
“We will cut off your head and send it to your family if you continue your activities against us,” one of the messages said.
Saeid Mollaei, a judo player from Iran, was asked to lose his semifinal match at the 2019 World Judo Championships so as to not face an Israeli opponent in the finals. After exposing the Iranian authorities for what they asked him to do, Mollaei fled the country and became a citizen of Mongolia in 2019. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, he won a silver medal, which he dedicated to Israel, Iran’s biggest adversary in the region.