It’s an open secret that for more than two decades the Revolutionary Guards have taken over all aspects of Iranian sports, so much so that you can find former officers from brigadiers and corps commanders to lowly majors, who sit at various management positions with little education and no experience in management or sports. Their promotion has only come through connections and influence peddling.
The IRGC commanders began to infiltrate sports organizations and teams in the mid-1990s. After the end of the eight-year war with Iraq, the Revolutionary Guards turned their gaze to the economic sphere, bidding for not only large-scale economic projects, oil tenders, privatization of industrial and commercial units, but also took over sports clubs, especially in football. Today, almost all clubs and sports teams operate under the command of Revolutionary Guards commanders, and the leadership of these teams is always in the hands of IRGC commanders. The more money generating a sport, the more visible the names of IRGC commanders.
Sports in Iran is a lucrative business dealing with millions of dollars, providing the former commanders with a war chest to use for political campaigns.
Some prominent sports figures have repeatedly criticized these uninvited guests and their corrupt practices, and paid a price for their outspoken comments. Ali Daei, the former star of Iranian football has been sidelined for the past two years. Ali Daei’s problems began when he gave a press interview soon after his dismissal as manager of Saipa, a team that was languishing in the middle of the league table. In the interview, he revealed that the real name of the club’s CEO was not Mostafa Modabber, but Ghafoor Darjezi, a Revolutionary Guards commander and former director of security at the state television station (IRIB).
Of course, the story gets murkier: the real name of Saipa’s CEO was neither Modabber nor Darjezi but Amir Mansour Bozorgian-Asl, who was part of the assassination squad that killed Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, the head of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, in 1989 in Vienna.
As it happens, Bozorgian Asl or Darjezi, has the backing of Massoud Soltanifar, the Minister of Sports and a former member of the Ministry of Intelligence of the Islamic Republic.
The following is a brief overview of some of the names and activities of people who entered the sport from the military institutions of the IRGC and the clergy.
Akbar Ghamkhar was named named the managing director of the Persepolis football team thanks to his special connections. A former Revolutionary Guards commander, Ghamkhar was a logistics manager at the IRGC’s “Nooh” base. After Perspolis he moved on to become a deputy director of hotel management and tourism at the Mostazafain Foundation, a managing director of the IRGC’s Cooperative Foundation, and a member of the board of directors of the IRGC Ansar al-Mujahideen.
Mostafa Ajrlou, another member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was elected as the CEO of the Pas Football Club, also served as managing director of Steel Azin and Tabriz Tractorsazi.
Mehdi Taj, went from a role as an IRGC commander to became the chairman of the board of Isfahan’s Sepahan and then became President of the Iran Football League and eventually headed the Iran Football Federation replacing Ali Kafashian.
Mohammad Royanian joined the Islamic Revolutionary Committee in Tehran in February 1978, and soon rose through the ranks to become on of the commanders of the fledgling organization. With a record of as a wartime commander, he has held various positions including heading the Traffic Police Command, and headed the office of the Transportation and Fuel Management. He became the CEO Perspolis, the most popular club in Iran, promising to transform the club into a professionally run outfit. Royanian’s mismanagement in Persepolis club in 2012 led to the club being sentenced to pay about 7 billion tomans ( $3 million in 2012) to former manager Manuel José de Jesus Silva in compensation.
Karim Mallahi another senior IRGC commander who moved from wearing uniform to the management positions in charge of running Tehran’s Pas and Mashhad’s Abu Muslem Clubs for many years..
Mohammad Derakhshan is a former logistics commander of the Revolutionary Guards. He was one of the first IRGC commanders to enter the sport. Derakhshan entered the Judo Federation for the first time in the 80’s and in 2016 he became the president of the Judo Federation for the second time. He currently serves as a consultant and chairman of the federation’s strategic council.
Mukhtar Kalantari another former IRGC commander, was President of the Taekwondo Federation from 1996 to 2000. He has also served as a former Deputy Minister of Roads and Managing Director of the Ports and Maritime Organization.
Mohammad Reza Poladgar, a cleric educated in the seminary of Qom, who was appointed to the Qom Taekwondo Board by Kalantari and then named as vice-president of the Taekwondo Federation. He has assumed the chairmanship in 2000 and has been an unmovable force.
Hossein Grossi, a member of the parliament’s sports faction and also a member of the Industries and Mines Commission in the ninth term of the parliament. He’s also a member of the board of the Kung Fu and Martial Arts Federation since 2003.
Hojjatoleslam Hassan Kordmihan, the leader of the attack on the Saudi embassy, recently became the cultural deputy of the Judo Federation in 2020. Kordmihan has a history of being involved with militia cracking down on protesters in recent years. He is also active in the Ansar Hezbollah delegations and the Noor Ma’rifat Institute in Karaj.
BY: Maryam Soltanzadeh