Senator Wants Iran Banned From 2024 Olympics

Iranian athletes have been 'harmed, imprisoned, or murdered' for speaking out against the regime

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
March 13, 2024

A Republican senator is calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban Iran from the 2024 games set to be held later this year in Paris, citing the country’s "oppression and abuse" of female athletes.

"The [Iranian] Regime should not gain any glory from the Games until they meet the standards and ideals of Olympism by allowing all Iranian athletes—regardless of gender or political persuasion—to practice their sport freely and without persecution," Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to the Olympic committee and obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "I ask that the Iranian Regime be held accountable for its crimes, and I request an update from the IOC on the status of Iran’s participation in the 2024 Olympic Games."

The senator’s letter comes amid the high profile defection of a female Iranian athlete who says she has been persecuted by the Islamic Republic’s hardline leadership. Iranian athletes have also been "harmed, imprisoned, or murdered" for speaking out against the hardline government and participating in pro-democracy protests, according to Blackburn.

The Iranian regime’s routine abuse of women and girls, including Olympic athletes, constitutes a "direct violation" of the IOC’s charter and should disqualify Tehran from participating in the 2024 Paris games, according to Blackburn, who is joining a coalition of exiled Iranian athletes in calling for Iran to be barred from the 2024 games.

"Athletes are not immune from persecution in Iran. In fact, Iran has only one female Olympic medalist, Kimia Alizadeh," the senator wrote. "This disparity is not due to a lack of talent. Rather, it is a direct result of the oppression and abuse female athletes in Iran face—the very oppression and abuse that forced Alizadeh to later defect. Wearing the hijab is forced in sports, and Iranian women are banned from participating in sports central to the summer Games, like gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, and boxing."

In other cases, prominent Iranian athletes have disappeared from public view after criticizing the hardline regime’s mass human rights abuses, which includes the 2022 murder of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who was killed by the country’s morality police for improperly wearing her hijab, or head covering. Amini’s murder sparked a massive wave of anti-regime protests that saw hundreds imprisoned, abused, and killed by Iran’s security forces.

Marjan Jangjou, for instance, a rock climber, has "been missing since she was arrested in her home in 2022 for her alleged participation in street protests," according to information Blackburn provided to the IOC.

Navid Afkari, a prominent wrestler, was executed in 2020, "even after international outcry, for insulting the Ayatollah" and participating in anti-regime protests.

Mohammad Karami, a national karate champion, was hanged in January 2021 "following a sham hearing on his alleged involvement in the death of a paramilitary member." Karami participated in the protests that erupted in the wake of Amini’s death, and that likely contributed to the regime’s decision to have him executed.

Kowsar Khoshnoudi-Kia, a silver medal-winning member of Iran’s national archery team, was blinded in 2023 after being shot in the face by Tehran’s security forces during the protests over Amini’s death.

"There are dozens more known Iranian athletes who have been abused or murdered by the Iranian Regime," Blackburn wrote.

Iran, the senator added, "is governed by an evil regime that systematically victimizes its own citizens, particularly women and girls. Violence permeates every aspect of life for Iranian women."

"As the eyes of the world turn toward Paris in anticipation of the Games," she wrote, "the IOC must immediately sanction Iran and send a resolute message: abuse of athletes and violation of the Olympic Charter will not be tolerated."