Gold-Winning Olympic Athlete Accused of Belonging to US-Designated Terrorist Group

Critics want Iranian marksman Javad Foroughi stripped of his gold medal over his reported membership of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IOC has called on his critics to provide proof.
July 30, 2021, 3:03pm
Gold Medalist Javad Foroughi of Team Iran poses on the podium following the 10m Air Pistol Men's event on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Gold Medalist Javad Foroughi of Team Iran poses on the podium following the 10m Air Pistol Men's event on day one of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee has called on critics to provide proof that Iran’s gold medal-winning marksman is a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 

Javad Foroughi, a 41-year-old shooter, has faced mounting criticism since winning gold in the men's 10-metres air pistol event in Tokyo on Saturday, with critics calling for an investigation by the IOC because of his alleged membership of the elite force, which is considered a terrorist group by the United States.

The IRGC is a hugely powerful branch of Iran’s military that answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. In 2019, it was designated a terrorist organisation by the United States, with then President Donald Trump describing the group as "the Iranian government's primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign."

Leading the campaign has been the Iranian activist group United for Navid, named after the Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari who was executed by Iran in 2020 after he participated in anti-government protests. Afkari was convicted of killing a security guard during protests, but his supporters say he was tortured into giving a false confession by the regime.

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United for Navid described Foroughi – who was reportedly deployed in Syria as a nurse for the IRGC – as a “current and longtime member of a terrorist organization” and said his win in Tokyo was “not only a catastrophe for Iranian sports but also for the international community.”

“Awarding an Olympic Gold Medal to a member of a terrorist organization is an insult to other athletes and a black mark on the IOC,” it said in a statement.

On Friday, IOC spokesman Mark Adams responded to the growing criticism of Foroughi’s participation, calling on activists to provide evidence of his membership of the IRGC.

“We would encourage them, if they have any evidence, to send that to us,” he told reporters.

Sardar Pashaei, a former national wrestling coach in Iran who moved to the US in 2009 and who supports the United for Navid campaign, called on the IOC to “[d]o your research and get your medal back.”  

Korean shooter Jin Jong-oh, a six-time Olympic medalist, also criticised Foroughi’s appearance in Tokyo, telling reporters Wednesday that the Iranian’s win was "pure nonsense."

"How can a terrorist win first place?” he said, according to a report in The Korea Times. “That's the most absurd and ridiculous thing.”

Foroughi’s ties to the IRGC have been widely referenced in Iranian media, both in pro-government outlets and those critical of the regime. Iran’s IRGC-affiliated newspaper Javan described Foroughi as “a Guards nurse who is at the same time a defender of health and of the shrine,” while the London-headquartered broadcaster Iran International reported that Foroughi was an IRGC member, and that he had spoken in state-affiliated media of his deployments to Syria and Lebanon as a nurse.

Iran’s embassy in London did not respond to a request for comment on Foroughi’s affiliations by the time of publication.