In a letter dated March 1, President Marius Vizer demanded that the Iranian Judo Federation commits itself to end all forms of political discrimination and give assurances that it will no longer prohibit its athletes from fighting or sharing the podium with Israeli athletes.
An answer on May 8 is posted on the IJF website. It is signed by the president of the Iranian Olympic Committee and by Arash Miresmaeili, the recently elected president of the Iranian Judo Federation, who is known to have suffered and benefited from similar circumstances.
The authors formally undertake to respect the Olympic Charter and the IJF Statutes.
This letter appears to be a significant step forward and everyone must welcome the initiative and determination of the IJF President.
It cannot be ignored, however, that the stated will of Iranian officials only confirms earlier agreements. Indeed, the Iranian Federation has de facto accepted to respect without reservation the statutes of the International Judo Federation as of its accession … at the end of the 1970s. It is the same with regard to the Iranian Olympic Committee recognized … from January 1st, 1947.
It should also be noted that so far no Iranian judoka has explicitly transgressed the principle of non-discrimination. The reasons given have always been officially justified by medical advice explaining either an overweight (Miresmaeili in Athens), or an impossibility to fight or to stand on the podium (Mollaei in Paris), to name just these two cases. Statements by politicians, those attributed to athletes by media outlets, although widely publicized by the public, have all received a denial that is also official, but mainly aimed at sports organizations alone.
The authors of the text claim that Iranian judo is in the process of growth, that in their view the achievement of the objectives and the ideal of the IJF requires an effort of mutual understanding as well as patience (sic).
In a way that is reassuring, they go on to say that the Olympic Committee, the Ministry of Sports and the Iranian Judo Federation are sparing no effort in negotiating with Parliament to find a legal solution suited to the situation.
Let’s take note of this beautiful declaration of intent that could be a milestone in the history of international sport.
But remember the recent case of these two Iranian football players, Haji Safi and Masoud Shojaei, banned from the national team for playing in the Europa League with their Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in July 2017. The Iranian Minister Sports Deputy had then declared on state television: “They no longer have their place in the national team of Iran because they have crossed the red line of the country”. For the vice-president of the Iranian Football Federation, these players should have refused to participate “even at the price of the cancellation of their contract”. Their reinstatement was possible only thanks to the pressure of the soccer fans and to the intervention of FIFA, the Iranian government not hesitating then to deny having taken any form of sanction against the two players.
All this leads us to a questioning. At a time when Iran’s nuclear agreements are threatened, what credit should be given to a half-hearted engagement in a sector that is not strategic? Are the enthusiastic articles by Mark Pickering and Alan Abrahamson, IJF journalists, announcing a profound change in policy, or are they just an angelic view of the situation? Only the future will allow us to appreciate the real reach of the mail addressed to the IJF.