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IOC under pressure after Iranian gold medalist accused of being member of U.S.-designated terrorist group

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The International Olympic Committee is facing outcry after it allowed an alleged member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to compete and win gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

Javad Foroughi secured the gold medal in the 10-meter air pistol on Saturday, the first and only medal so far for Iran in Tokyo. In the days since, international critics, including some from Iran, have accused Foroughi, 41, of being a member of IRGC, a powerful ideological Iranian military branch that answers directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Activist group: Foroughi's medal a 'catastrophe'

Iran's Javad Foroughi celebrates his gold medal in air pistol, but not everyone is. (Reuters/Ann Wang)
Iran's Javad Foroughi celebrates his gold medal in air pistol, but not everyone is. (Reuters/Ann Wang)

An activist group called United for Navid called Foroughi's gold medal a "catastrophe" and demanded an IOC investigation. The group is named for Iranian wrestler Navid Afkari, whom the state executed in 2020 after he participated in anti-government protests. Afkari was convicted of murdering a security guard during protests. His family and activists claim he was tortured into giving a false confession by a state that has reportedly coerced more than 350 false confessions in the past decade. 

"We consider the awarding of an Olympic gold medal to Iran marksman Javad Foroughi not only a catastrophe for Iranian sports but also for the international community, and especially the reputation of the IOC," a United for Navid statement reads. "The 41-year old Foroughi is a current and longtime member of a terrorist organization.

"The IRGC has a history of violence and killing not only of Iranian people and protesters there, but also innocent people in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. It is a designated foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

“We call for an immediate investigation by the IOC, and until an investigation is completed the suspension of any medal award."

What is the IRGC?

Former President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terror group in 2019, the first time the U.S. has made the designation of an official part of another nation's government. The IRGC has a history of violence within Iran and in foreign conflicts.

Per the Washington Post, "the supreme leader uses the IRGC to enforce his will upon the Iranian people and squash any perceived threats, both from inside and outside the country." The IRGC has allied with Hamas and Hezbollah and supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his attacks on anti-government protestors in a civil war that's claimed more than 380,000 lives

Javad Foroughi competes during finals of the 10m Air Pistol Men's event on Saturday. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Javad Foroughi competes during finals of the 10m Air Pistol Men's event on Saturday. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Rival shooter: Foroughi's medal 'pure nonsense'

On Friday, six-time Korean medalist Korean shooter Jin Jong-oh echoed United for Navid's statement, calling Foroughi's medal "pure nonsense" in comments to Korean reporters. Jin failed to make it past the qualification stage in Tokyo.

"How can a terrorist win first place? That's the most absurd and ridiculous thing," he said, per the Korea Times.

On Friday, the IOC challenged United for Navid to provide evidence that Foroughi is a member of the IRGC.

"We would encourage them if they have any evidence to send that to us," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, per the Associated Press.

Foroughi said he picked up a pistol for the first time in recent years

Foroughi claims to have served as a nurse in Syria between 2013 and 2015. He told reporters before the Games that he first picked up a pistol when he found one under a hospital, and that he had never seen one prior to that. Per the IOC, he said he scored 85 points on 10 shots after he received instruction on how to use it and has been practicing since. 

According to AFP, state-run media in Iran celebrated his victory, describing him as "a defender of health and of the shrine," with one publication showing a photo of him giving a military salute during the Iranian anthem as he received his gold medal. 

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