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Iranian Athletes Slam Sports Officials, Seek Asylum In Australia

Korea's player tries to break a cordon by Iran's players during the semi-final match between Iran and Korea of the 2016 Kabaddi World Cup at the Transstadia in Ahmedabad on October 21, 2016.

Two members of Iran’s national team have refused to return from the Kabaddi World Cup in Australia and say they are seeking asylum after being threatened with “severe punishment” by the head of Iran’s Kabaddi Federation.

The federation had previously insisted that the two players would soon return.

Kabaddi is a contact team sport which is popular in South Asia. The game is played between two teams of seven players; the object of the game is for a single player on offence, referred to as a "raider", to run into the opposing team's half of a court, tag out as many of their defenders as possible, and return to their own half of the court, all without being tackled by the defenders.

The Punvec Kabaddi World Cup 2018 kicked off at Lakeside Stadium Albert Park on April 22, featuring eight teams from Australia, Canada, India, Iran, New Zealand, Pakistan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Farda, Mojtaba Shadkam and Amir Dehqani said they are staying in Melbourne and seeking asylum there.

“The sports environment in Iran is dominated by corruption,” world and Asian bronze medalist Shadkam said. “The presidents of the sports federations in Iran are mainly intelligence agents and members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) who have no concerns about sports.”

Shadkam, who also competed in the national championship in freestyle wrestling, continued, “Our sports managers are merely serving the Islamic dictatorship. Therefore, it is hard to find a national athlete who is not fed up with the sports situation in Iran.”

According to Shadkam, “none of the members of Iran’s national teams want to be used as a billboard for promoting a corrupt political system. The real members of national sides are athletes who want to create glory for their people and make them proud and happy.”

Responding to Radio Farda’s question about the reasons behind his decision to seek asylum in Australia, Shadkam said, “Whoever is a little different [from the regime’s officials] risks being labeled [a foreign agent]. Even outside sports arenas, national athletes are constantly watched lest they behave against the ruling system’s ideology. They expect us to work at sweatshops as servants of the establishment.”

Dehqani, who has taken part in multiple World and Asian Games and won the 2014 World bronze medal, also expressed dissatisfaction with the level of corruption in Iran’s sports.

“We have always had clashes with the authorities over unfair decisions and disregarding sportsmen’s rights. In Melbourne, Australia, we had similar clashes with the president of the Kabaddi Federation. He accused us of crossing Iran’s red lines and threatened us with severe punishment after returning to Tehran.”

Clashes between athletes and IRGC members who control sports in Iran are not unprecedented. Recently, during a heated debate over an unwritten law banning Iranian athletes from facing Israeli counterparts in international arenas, the president of Iran’s Wrestling Federation, Olympic gold medalist Rasoul Khadem, proposed the ban be lifted.

"If we must continue with the policy of non-competition against the Zionist regime's athletes, the responsibility cannot fall solely on the shoulders of the coach and athletes," Khadem told state-run radio.

In response, the commander of the Baseej Resistance Force, Gholam Hossein Gheybparvar, said on March 19, “It is a non-negotiable principle that Iranian athletes must refrain from competition with Israelis,” adding that the destruction of Israel is the central ideal of the Iranian regime. He then accused Khadem of “testing the waters for establishing relations with Israel.”

“This is not something one can test and see if the result is positive then take further steps. No further steps will be taken, because we will break their legs when they make the very first move [toward Israel],” Gheybparvar said.