September 8, 2020
A global union representing 85,000 athletes called on Tuesday for Iran’s expulsion from world sport if it executes champion wrestler Navid Afkari whose case has stirred outcry.
The 27-year-old Greco-Roman wrestler faces two death sentences after being convicted of stabbing a water security guard to death and other charges relating to anti-government protests in 2018, according to state media.
“The horrific act of executing an athlete can only be regarded as a repudiation of the humanitarian values that underpin sport,” said World Players Association (WPA) director Brendan Schwab in a statement.
“It must result in Iran forfeiting its right to be a part of sport’s universal community.”
Afkari has said he was tortured into making a false confession, according to his family and activists, and his attorney says there is no proof of his guilt.
Iran’s judiciary has denied the torture claims.
“Based on clear evidence, Afkari stabbed to death an innocent man. He has confessed at the court. The court issued the death sentence based on strong evidence and the Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence,” the judiciary said in a statement carried by Iranian media last week.
Rights groups and foreign officials including U.S. President Donald Trump have urged a reprieve while social media has seen a campaign for him under the hashtag #SaveNavidAfkari.
The WPA – with members from the North American basketball, baseball, ice hockey and American football leagues as well as European soccer and Australian Rules football – said Afkari had been singled out because of his sporting success.
“He has been unjustly targeted by the Iranian authorities who want to make an example out of a popular, high-profile athlete and intimidate others who might dare exercise their human right to participate in a peaceful protest,” it said.
Schwab said global sporting bodies such as the International Olympic Committee and FIFA should use their leverage to pressure Iran on behalf of Afkari.
“We are extremely concerned that Navid’s execution is imminent, given the Iranian Judiciary’s record in such cases and the way they have previously carried out political execution,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of U.S.-based The Center for Human Rights in Iran.
Iran’s judiciary, which has yet to announce a date for the execution, could not immediately be reached for further comment.