Iranian athletes who have publicly criticized authorities for the economic hardships facing Iranians have been warned by the Supreme Leader not to “bite the hand that feeds them.”
Scores of Iranian athletes took to social media to condemn recent comments from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as tone deaf. Zarif had said that in the current economic climate, “we are all under pressure.”
Bayern Munich and Iranian national soccer player Ali Karimi responded on his Instagram page, “Which 'we' are under pressure Doctor [Zarif]? Strictly speaking, 'you', or ‘us’?”
Karimi's fellow soccer player Voria Ghafouri also addressed the foreign minister on social media, writing, “You are not under pressure. As a matter of fact, it is the ordinary people who are under pressure."
Ghafouri later added, “Some of the authorities add salt to injury with their remarks.”
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei admonished the athletes in a February 18 speech, saying, “Some who benefit from this country’s peace and security, who enjoy their jobs and favorite sport, bite the hand that feeds them. They should know that their security is obtained by the current polices of the regime.”
Just hours after Khamenei’s speech, state media reported the Ministry of Sports security department had summoned Ghafouri to explain his remarks.
Iran's Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Masoud Soltanifar, similarly chided the sportsmen, saying, "Athletes should never forget what a peaceful and safe environment they are living in. It is the peace, freedom, and security that gives them the guts to criticize the highest authorities of the ruling establishment.”
Speaking at a session of the Iranian National Olympic Committee, Soltanifar called upon the Iranian athletes to be “a little more tolerant,” and understand that the current economic pressures on the country are the outcome of "unjust" sanctions.
Video of Soltanifar’s remarks circulated on Instagram drew a barrage of criticism.
Iranian wrestling superstar Alireza Karimi Machiani tweeted, "In such an abnormal situation, you [Soltanifar] and your deputies should also work without salary and bonuses and bear the difficulties along with ordinary people."
"My father's pension, after 25 years of service, is under 30 million rials”, ($220 monthly based on free market rate of exchange), Machine continued, asking, “Is the official, who calls us to bear the difficulties capable of living on such minimal income?"
Machiani told the state-run Iran Students News Agency (ISNA), "Some of the officials have astronomical salaries and their children live a luxurious life in the U.S.A. and other countries. They speak in a way as if the people are indebted to them.”
The national record holder of the long jump and two-time Olympic competitor Mohammad Arzandeh went further by posting on social media, "Please shut your mouth and say nothing, Mr. Soltanifar."
Winner of five Asian medals in track and field Ehsan Mohajer Shojaei also blasted Soltanifar and the President of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of the Islamic Republic of Iran, former intelligence officer, Reza Salehi Amiri, posting on social media, “Why should only people bear difficulties? Are your relatives also struggling with difficulties?"
World champion in Para-Taekwondo Mehdi Pour Rahnama also admonished the sports minister, writing, "I wish you had a little bit of honor, a tiny bit of honesty. Why have you been lying for so long?"
Dozens of other athletes joined the chorus to condemn Soltanifar's remarks. The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports removed the video of the minister’s comments from Instagram after it attracted a flood of angry comments.