News / Middle East

Olympic Committee Warns Iran: Keep Hands Off Sports Bodies

An Iranian soccer fan reacts after Iran lost to Iraq in the second preliminary round of the Asian qualifiers for 2012 London Olympics, at Azadi (Freedom) stadium in Tehran, June 23, 2011.
An Iranian soccer fan reacts after Iran lost to Iraq in the second preliminary round of the Asian qualifiers for 2012 London Olympics, at Azadi (Freedom) stadium in Tehran, June 23, 2011.
David Byrd
The International Olympic Committee has sent Iran a second letter over perceived government interference in Iran’s National Olympic Committee. Last week, the IOC urged the Iranians to discuss the matter with relevant government authorities to make sure Iran was not in violation of the Olympic Charter.

The Charter specifically states “The NOCs must preserve their autonomy and resist all pressures of any kind, including but not limited to political, legal, religious or economic pressures which may prevent them from complying with the Olympic Charter.”

Ed Hula III is with aroundtherings.com, a website that covers only the Olympics and is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He said that Iranian sports federation officials had been removed from their jobs because of government pressure.

“It’s believed that the authority of the leaders of the sports federations had been removed by the government, which is trying to exert undue influence onto them,” Hula said.

“The Olympic Charter expressly says that all sports bodies must be free of government interference, and the IOC was basically expressing its concerns over reports that it had heard and was reminding the [Iranian] government that sports bodies have to be free of government interference,” he added.

The Tehran Times reported that Iranian minister of Sports and Youth Affairs, Mohammad Abbasi, had been summoned to parliament (majlis) to answer questions about the letter.The newspaper reported that in the last few months, the directors of several Iranian sports federations had been dismissed by the government without a General Assembly meeting, something that violates the principle of autonomy.

Hula said that continued government interference could lead to sanctions, though he admitted a ban from London is not likely.

“The IOC could - in theory - prevent the Iranians from competing under their flag at the Olympics,” he said. That’s the last ditch option.  At the Opening Ceremonies they would march under the Olympic flag instead of the Iranian one; if they won a medal, the Olympic flag would fly instead of the Iranian one and so on,” he said.

However, Hula admitted such sanctions are not likely to take effect - usually because National Olympic Committees comply with the IOC directives so no further action is needed.

“This is basically the first step that the IOC does take,” Hula said.  “It’s basically putting the ball in motion, and saying ‘look these are the rules, and we hope that you respect the rules and the Olympic Charter,’” he added. “It’s basically informing them so they know the consequences and what’s at stake.”

The warning comes as Tehran announced that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plans to attend the London Games. News reports quote Iranian Olympic Committee Secretary General Bahram Afsharzadeh as saying that Ahmadinejad will fly to London July 26. Earlier reports had indicated the Iranian president would not go to the Games to protest plans to fingerprint and face-scan Olympic athletes and their coaches as they enter Britain for the Games.

The IOC letter also comes after Afsharzadeh complained that the U.K. has refused to grant visas to Iranian spectators headed to London. Press TV quotes the Iranian official as saying that even though visa applications were filed a year ago, no visas appear to have been issued.

However, Britain’s Minister for Sport and the Olympics, Hugh Robertson, said that visas from foreign nationals to attend the games are rejected only for a particular reason. Robertson told the insidethegames.biz website that anyone denied a visa is turned down for a specific reason, not because of where the application originates.

The issue was raised with Robertson last month after several Chinese citizens reportedly purchased Games tickets before discovering their visa applications had been rejected.

Relations between Britain and Iran have been strained since protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran last year, ransacking offices and burning British flags in response to sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear program. The embassy was subsequently closed.  In response, Britain shut Iran’s embassy in London and expelled its staff from the country.

Iran plans to send around 50 athletes to compete in the London Games, which begin July 27.

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