The date was intended to be symbolic. On Wednesday 13 September, one year to the day after the arrest in Tehran of a young Iranian student of Kurdish origin, Mahsa Amini, a group of people called on the IOC to exclude Iran from the Paris 2024 Games. The group is led by three people from very different backgrounds: former world boxing champion Mahyar Monshipour (pictured above), Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, and French lawyer Frédéric Thiriez, former chairman of the French Professional Football League (LFP).
At issue is the discrimination experienced on a daily basis by Iranian sportswomen, who are often forced to train in secret and prevented from taking part in international competitions. The three leaders of the collective explained at a press conference that Iran does not respect the Olympic Charter. The situation of female athletes in Iran is akin to “sexual apartheid“, comparable to the racial policy of South Africa before it was reintegrated into the Olympic movement at the Barcelona Games in 1992.
As Mahyar Monshipour explained, based on video-conference testimonies from Iranian athletes and technical managers who have taken refuge abroad, practising sport in Iran is now a daily struggle for women. “Boxers, for example, cannot have a man as a coach. They can only train in closed places. Many do so in secret, in flats or basements. They are not allowed to go to a club.”
Last July, just one year before the opening of the Paris 2024 Games, the collective wrote a letter to the IOC. Addressed to Thomas Bach, it proposed two options. The first was radical: Iran would be excluded from the next Summer Games for failing to comply with the Olympic Charter, particularly the articles relating to the rule of non-discrimination. The second, closer to a compromise, suggests excluding Iran from the five disciplines banned to women by the Islamic regime: swimming, boxing, wrestling, gymnastics and beach volleyball.
A month after its request, the collective received a reply, signed by the Director of External Relations. A polite reply. A wait-and-see response. “To put it plainly, the IOC told us that they were monitoring the situation and had already explained to Iran that its policy towards women was not fair“, explained Mahyar Monshipour. Not enough, according to the project leaders, who are now convinced that the IOC will go no further.
As Frédéric Thiriez explains, the next stage will be more aggressive. “We’re continuing the fight. With two parallel approaches: the law and opinion. We are working on a legal approach, by taking the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But the law has its limits. That’s why we’re counting on pressure from public opinion. Public opinion has to move. People need to wake up. This situation is intolerable.”
A website has been launched to publicise the cause and explain what is at stake. A petition has been opened on the change.org platform. “We are counting heavily on the Iranian community abroad, particularly in the United States and Canada, to support us financially“, explains Mahyar Monshipour, who was born in Iran but moved to France at the age of 11.
At the end of last month, two associations lodged a complaint in Paris against Ghafoor Kargari, the Iranian President of the National Paralympic Committee. They accuse him of torture and suspect him of crimes against humanity. Ghafoor Kargari was in Paris for the seminar for the heads of mission of the Paralympic Games organised by the OCOG.