Thirty-seven years ago today, Habib Khabiri, the Iran National Soccer Team captain, was tortured and executed due to his political beliefs. Two years earlier, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had detained him for membership to the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

In June 1984, then-warden of Evin Prison Assadollah Lajevardi did whatever he could to break Khabiri, forcing him to refuse his membership to the PMOI/MEK and condemn them. Instead, he insisted on his struggle for freedom and democracy, choosing death rather than surrender. It was reportedly said that his fiancée was also shot dead along with Habib on the same day.

These days, as vaccination processes had provided a partly herd immunization versus the Covid-19, soccer competitions have resumed once again. Soccer fans enthusiastically follow Euro 2021 and World Cup Qualifiers competitions in various countries.

Iran national soccer team defeated its Iraqi competitor on June 15, making happy millions of Iranians. To gain a reputation, notorious Judiciary Chief Ebrahim Raisi, who recently won the boycotted Presidential election, congratulated the national team on its victory. However, the people of Iran have yet to forget that Raisi, as the then-Deputy Prosecutor of Tehran, had a crucial role in executing their Captain in 1984.

Habib Khabiri, of course, was not the sole Iranian athlete who was faced severe punishments for political beliefs and activities. Iranian authorities also arrested Forouzan Abdi, a member of the Iranian women’s national volleyball team, for membership in the PMOI/MEK in 1982.

Authorities applied extreme physical and psychological torture to Abdi. For instance, they detained Abdi’s entire family and held them in custody for around six months, seeking to break her soul and succumb her. However, she denied it and eventually was executed along with 30,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988.

‘President-elect’ Ebrahim Raisi was one of the perpetrators of the extrajudicial executions as Tehran’s Deputy Prosecutor. He was also a member of the ‘death commission’ in Tehran, who drove thousands of political prisoners to the gallows in the prisons of Evin, Qezelhessar, Gohardasht, etc. “[Interrogators] are tired of us, they want to set us free,” Abdi said when the guards had come to take her to the gallows.

Houshang Montazerolzohour was a gold medalist of the Iran national Greco Roman wrestling team. Two nights after his last title and winning the gold medal at the national wrestling championship on August 13, 1981, security forces arrested him along with his father. One month later, Montazerolzohour was executed for his membership to the PMOI/MEK.

Meanwhile, as the latest instance, authorities detained national wrestling champion Navid Afkari for participating in anti-establishment protests in August 2018. To justify the death sentence, Raisi’s judiciary falsely accused him of murder. He evidently refused accusations, declaring that he was subjected to torture for forced confession. His lawyer also rejected allegations in accordance with the Islamic Republic’s Penal Code.

Prominent athletes, politicians, human rights defenders, and Iranian citizens constantly demand the government suspends the death penalty and spares his life. However, in flagrant defiance to international appeals and calls, Raisi’s judiciary insisted on implementing the death penalty, and Afkari was finally hanged at dawn on September 12.

Furthermore, Tehran’s repressive measures led many athletes to abandon their homeland or leave their desired sports. Indeed, many athletes annually depart Iran to continue their required sports in other countries. Several prefer to join asylum teams rather than acquiesce to the theocracy’s dogmatic rulings. Like millions of citizens, they do not see a better future via the current establishment. In this context, many of them join national resistance against the dictatorship and struggle for freedom in Iran.

Likewise, many of them approached the opposition. They became members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), including Khabiri’s teammates like Asghar Adibi, the midfielder, Hassan Nayeb-Agha, the midfielder, and Bahram Mavaddat, the Goalkeeper.

This list also extends to colleagues of Iran’s iconic wrestling champion Gholamreza Takhti like Moslem Eskandar Filabi, the winner of four gold medals in the heavyweight class at the 1966-1974 Asian games, and Dr. Mohammad Ghorbani, the winner of the world title in flyweight freestyle wrestler in 1971.