'Miscarriage of justice': Australian leads call for Olympics to kick out Iran
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'Miscarriage of justice': Australian leads call for Olympics to kick out Iran

The Australian lawyer leading the charge for Iran to be exiled from international competition over the execution of a champion wrestler has rejected the contention it was unrelated to sport, saying he “can’t think of a more grievous attack on the humanitarian values of the Olympic movement”.

From the European Union to US presidential candidate Joe Biden, the condemnation of the Islamic republic over the hanging of 27-year-old Navid Afkari last weekend has been far and wide.

Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari, who was executed in an Iranian prison.

Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari, who was executed in an Iranian prison.

For Brendan Schwab, it is vital that words are accompanied by action. The former head of Australian soccer’s players union now operates in Switzerland running the World Players Association, the peak body for player associations across all sports.

In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, he turned up the heat on the International Olympic Committee after IOC vice-president and Australian Olympic Committee supremo John Coates indicated Iran was unlikely to be suspended or expelled from the Olympics over the death of Afkari, who claimed he was tortured into making a false confession aired on state television.

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Coates told the Herald this week he had spoken to IOC president Thomas Bach about the Afkari case and the difficulty with sanctions was that many countries still had capital punishment and the wrestler’s execution, for the alleged murder of a security agent at an anti-government demonstration in 2018, was not related to a sporting event. Coates said Bach would take the issue of any IOC response to its executive meeting next month.

World Players Association executive director Brendan Schwab.

World Players Association executive director Brendan Schwab.Credit:Jonathan Carroll

Wrestling’s governing body has also suggested a suspension of Iran, a superpower of the ancient sport, is not likely.

“We’re certainly disappointed that leaders have moved very quickly after the execution to talk down the prospect of sporting sanctions when they were not put on the table before the execution,” Schwab said. “But also to suggest that this execution is unrelated to sport, when it involves an athlete and a manifest miscarriage of justice, is simply a statement that is without any factual basis and should not be made without at least the IOC first thoroughly investigating that situation. It is clearly related to sport if part of the injustice is that an athlete has a certain profile and therefore can be made a greater example of.

“We can’t think of a more grievous attack on the humanitarian values of the Olympic movement than the horrific execution of an athlete through a coerced confession obtained through torture.”

Schwab’s organisation is demanding Iran’s exclusion from the international sports community including from next year’s Olympics, a ban on the country hosting major events and an investigation into the “targeting of athlete activists for political purposes”.

“The question that all leaders in sport need to ask, not just the IOC, is what does sport mean and what status does an athlete have if this act is allowed to go without any response from the international sports community?” Schwab said.

“Given the risk that it raises for athlete activists throughout the world, we believe it would be an incredibly dangerous position for sport to take.”

United Nations Human Rights found it was "deeply disturbing that the authorities appear to have used the death penalty against an athlete as a warning to its population in a climate of increasing social unrest".

"The course of events in Navid Afkari’s case raise serious doubts about the veracity of the basis for the murder charge against him," UNHR said in a statement. "The hastened secret execution, forced confession under torture as the sole evidence, closed trial and the lack of respect for the domestic requirements for reconciliation and the denial of a last family visit suggest that there was an attempt by the authorities to expedite his execution."

According to Wrestling Australia secretary Rhea Duff, the impact of Afkari’s execution has been felt in Australian wrestling, which has many Iranian-born competitors, coaches and volunteers.

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Among the best of them in recent years have been Farzad Tarash, who was Australia’s only wrestler at London 2012; his brother Mehrdad, who has competed at multiple Commonwealth Games; and Hassan Shahsavan, who represented his adopted nation in Beijing in 2008.

Others have arrived here as asylum seekers and won national titles but, without citizenship, have been unable to compete for Australia.

“There are quite a lot of Iranian wrestlers here so I think it’s had a huge impact on them mentally … knowing that something like that can happen back home,” Duff said.

“It’s obviously affected Iranians all over the world.”

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