Professional nurse, Javad Foroughi triumphed in the 10-meter air pistol with a record score. A nurse in a hospital in the capital in contact with the sick, he was part of al Quds forces in Syria and calls himself a "soldier" of his country. Newspapers and state TV euologise his victory; activists and NGOs speak of a "catastrophe" for the sport and the international community.
Tehran (AsiaNews) - While the Islamic Republic is swept by popular protests over a protracted water crisis, the official authorities are celebrating the Olympic victory of 41-year-old nurse Javad Foroughi, a member of the Guardians of the Revolution (Pasdaran) and former operative in Syria.
On July 24, the athlete won gold at the Tokyo 2020 Games in the 10-meter air pistol with a record score of 244.8, becoming Iran's oldest and newest Olympic champion.
He likes to call himself a "soldier" of his country and has repeatedly lived up to his name, having among other things worked as a nurse in the "frontline" fight against the coronavirus in a hospital in the capital and, in the past, in war-torn areas of Syria. "I am very happy - he said at the end of the award ceremony - because I am the first Iranian champion in pistol and rifle. I am satisfied that I have proved to be a soldier of my nation."
"I am a nurse and I work in the hospital, especially during the COVID pandemic. My COVID test was positive last year because I work in the hospital and after recovering I started my training again for the Olympics," he recalled. In the following months, however, he contracted the virus for the second time and had to interrupt his training for more than a month.
The success of Javad Foroughi, who before the rise of the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) had been a member of the Quds Forces in Syria, "is part of our country's history," a pro-government daily newspaper, like many other newspapers in the Islamic Republic, headlined full-page. The ultra-conservative Javan had a photo of the athlete making the military salute on the podium during the anthem, exploiting the victory for propaganda while in the squares protests mount.
"An unexpected medal, won by a Pasdaran nurse who is both a defender of health and of the temple," writes the newspaper, with a reference that evokes the past in Syria and Iraq, the two main sanctuaries of Shiite Islam. He had spoken of this past in an interview with the Salamat ("Health" in Persian) channel in May, where he recalled his time spent in Palmyra in war zones.
His victory sparked joy from colleagues and patients at Baqiyatallah Hospital in Tehran, where he works as a nurse. Plaudits also came from Pasdaran chief Hossein Salami, who called him "an exuberant guard of the Islamic revolution." Among the phone calls of congratulations and good wishes received also that of the elected president, the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi, who called him a few minutes after the last decisive shot for victory.
If, on the one hand, the ayatollah regime pays homage to the winner, there is no lack of criticism and attacks from pro-human rights groups, at home and abroad. A very harsh condemnation comes from "United for Navid", an NGO that collects activist athletes and that derives its name from the Iranian Greek-Roman wrestling champion Navid Afkari, imprisoned, tortured and executed for participating in the 2018 anti-government protests.
In a note, the group attacks the International Olympic Committee for celebrating Javad Foroughi's gold, calling him a "member of a terrorist organization" (the Guardians of the Revolution). "To have celebrated him," the group says, "is not only a catastrophe for Iranian sports but also for the international community, and especially the reputation of the International Olympic Committee."