Leader Lauds Iranian Athletes for Refusing to Face Israelis

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei said an Iranian athlete who refuses to compete with a Zionist competitor is truly the victor.

The following is the full text of the speech delivered by Ayatollah Khamenei, during a meeting with officials of the second National Congress of Sports Martyrs, on September 11, 2022.

The speech that the Leader delivered during the meeting was broadcast at the venue of this congress on October 10, 2022.

In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds, and peace and blessings be upon our Master, Prophet Muhammad, and upon his Pure Progeny, particularly the remaining vestige of God on earth.

You are very welcome dear friends. You have brought good news with you as can be seen in the reports that were given. Thank you very much for organizing this large, meaningful convention. We hope that your efforts and the good intentions that can be seen amongst you will be well-regarded by the Lord, and God willing, approved by Hazrat Baqitullah (aj). I would also like to thank the dear brothers who presented me with their medals. I planned on thanking the makers of the movie “Red Rectangle” during my talk today. I haven’t seen the film, but I have heard about it. Thank God they (the filmmakers) are here today. This kind of work needs to be carried out. That is, this artistic production and artistic expression of the facts that you mentioned are very important. Such actions need to be taken. These two gentlemen made this. I’ve heard some other films were also made for television showing a number of other heroic martyrs. Anyway, this is an important matter, and this kind of work needs to be continued.

I would like to talk about two things today: first, a word about martyrs and martyrdom and this magnificent caravan of our dear sportsmen who were martyred, and second, a word about the issue of sports itself. The issue of sports is an issue that should not be pushed to the side. It needs to be regarded as a central issue, and I will talk about this now.

Regarding the martyrs, it is stated in two places in the Holy Quran that the martyrs are not dead, rather they are alive. This has been clearly stated. One place this has been stated is in Surah Al-Baqara, “And do not speak of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead, nay, they are alive” (Quran 2:154). Could it be any clearer or more obvious than this? This has also been mentioned in Surah Aal-e Imran, “And reckon not those who are killed in Allah’s way as dead, nay, they are alive” (Quran 3:169). Now, the question regarding what the lives of the martyrs is like, is a whole different topic for discussion. It is certainly different from the material life that we have. And it is certainly different from the life in purgatory that the spirits of many other people are actively experiencing and who are alive in a sense. It’s not that either. It’s a third type of life. In any case, it is an important reality that the Holy Quran is referring to.

There are certain requirements for one to be alive. One of these requirements is for a person to be influential, and martyrs are influential people. Since they’re alive, they affect the living environment of those who are alive. They’re having an effect on us. They’re working on us. This is also mentioned in a noble verse itself.  In the next verse in Surah Aal-e Imran it states, “And they rejoice for the sake of those who, (being left) behind them, have not yet joined them, that they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve” (Quran 3:170).  Now consider the phrase “they shall have no fear.” (If) we apply “they” to them or to us, the people in this world, it makes no difference. The outcome is that they’re telling us there may be difficulties when fighting for the sake of God. Well, it does have some difficulties, but it has a very good outcome. At the end of this journey, at the end of this path, there is no fear or sorrow. This is very important.

Now one can tolerate some problems, but at the end of the day, “they shall have no fear, nor shall they grieve” is in the path that you’re taking. These two factors are the factors that hurt human beings. This is what the Quran clearly tells us. As a matter of fact, this great number of martyrs give us assurance. The community of believers who wish to take action in the way of God and work according to God’s will are reassured by this message of the martyrs, which is actually the message of God. They understand that it is possible to move and advance with hope on this path. This assurance allows us to move, and it helps us to strive and make an effort. You have already mentioned examples of this. God willing, I may also give an example of this later in my talk.

In and during the time of the Islamic government, the direction of the country as a whole has been such that struggling in the way of God and martyrdom for the sake of God have gained popularity. It wasn’t like this before. I experienced what it was like before the victory of the Revolution. I spent half of my life during that time (before the Revolution).

At that time too, God helped me to move on this path. However, the passion for struggling in the way of God and the passion for being martyred for the sake of God, which have existed during the period of the Islamic government, did not exist back then. This attraction has allowed all social classes and all the different levels of society to become enthusiastic for struggling in the way of God and prepared those who have the ability and correct mentality to enter the field. This includes the martyrs who were athletes and the soldiers who were athletes.

The athletic community is an influential group. Athletes are influential. Their personality, their movements, and their actions in society are different from that of an ordinary person, especially an athlete who gains prominence and leaves an impression. These athletes influence some people.

Now, if this athlete finds a desire to take part in the struggle on the path of God and moves on that path, imagine the significant effects that he can have on society or what movement they can create. Fortunately, this movement has been created thanks to these five thousand martyrs. Among these five thousand or so (martyrs), there were quite a large number of elite, professional athletes who were champions. Maybe more than a thousand of these martyrs were professional athletes who held high ranks in various sporting fields.

I saw in this exhibition that they had written this was true in 33 fields. Anyway, as far as I know and I’m aware of, some people left from among us who were from different sporting fields. And now they are on the championship platform in the spiritual realm, which is much greater than the championship platform in this world. They gained achievements themselves, but they also took some other people with them.

Fortunately, today our sporting environment is influenced by the same spirituality that our dear martyred athletes created in our society. This spirituality is present in our sports environment today. Of course, all kinds of people exist in all environments. There are all kinds of people in the environment of the clergy, and the same goes for the sporting environment. But in general, the atmosphere of sports in the country today is very different from the way it was in the past.

Manifestations of religiosity, manifestations of adherence (to religion), and manifestations of spirituality – these things that I have repeatedly talked about on different occasions, which were also mentioned by these gentlemen – (these are all abundant). That courageous, devoted woman who stood on the podium, pulled her hand back, and refused to shake the hand of a foreign man (while she stood) there wearing a chador and Islamic hijab before the eyes of millions of people. Many of those people had been trained to take action and speak against the hijab and chastity of women.

Or there was that young champion who gifted his medal to the family of those who were martyred. Or there was that religious athlete who after winning in his sport – whether it was in wrestling, weightlifting, or something else – he lowered himself to the ground, prostrated to God, and uttered the names of the Holy Imams instead of acting conceitedly. These are important things. Sometimes we get used to something and we lose sight of the importance and greatness of these actions. In today’s world, the world of materialism, the world of corruption, such phenomena are remarkable.

I suggest that those who wish to know the Iranian nation properly should pay attention to this phenomenon. There’s meaning in this when our young athlete steps onto the podium in front of millions, and sometimes hundreds of millions (of people), and expresses her devotion to spirituality, God, and the awliya of God in this way. There’s much meaning in this, and it’s very significant for getting to know the Iranian nation and the depth of their spirituality and moral behavior.

Well, this is one indicator and an important one at that. Now, I’ve heard some good news about the sports delegations who took part in the Arbaeen Pilgrimage this year. For example, there was the time when they showed their respect and devotion to Imam Ali (pbuh) in Najaf. Well, these things have a high value. This spiritual atmosphere has great importance.

One of the blessings that comes from fighting for the cause of God is that it injects spirituality into different layers of society. It means that when you are an athlete or a sports manager and you are bound by certain spiritual and religious obligations, you will not just benefit from this yourself. You will also benefit many other people, first of all, in the sports environment itself, and then in the environment of the general public. These activities pave the way and bring apt individuals into the field of spirituality.

Anyway, the fields of jihad that the Iranian nation is faced with are different every day. One day this jihad was in the form of defending the country in a war, another day it was in the form of defending the holy sanctuaries (in Iraq and Syria), and today the fields of jihad are open in front of us in various ways. In my opinion, the presence of prominent people and figures in society in all of this can have a significant impact on others, and this is something very valuable. This was regarding the issue of martyrs and martyrdom.

As for exercise, the reason I am talking specifically about exercise is because of its importance, both exercise for the general public – which I advise everyone to do – as well as professional sports and competitions. These are important. They’re not something on the sidelines of social life. They’re a section of the main part of social life.

I have always stressed the importance of exercise for the general public, and I will repeat this. Everyone needs to exercise. In today’s automated world where people have a sedentary lifestyle – forget us old men – young people really aren’t moving around much. They get into a car and get out at their destination. They get in an elevator and go up. There’s no movement whatsoever.

In this sort of environment, exercise is no longer just a recommended action. It’s necessary and compulsory for everyone! Of course, the type of exercise needed for people like me and those who are around my age differs from the type of exercise that young or middle-aged people take part in. But nevertheless, we all need to exercise.

Exercise for the general public shouldn’t be neglected. It’s good for physical health. That is, exercise makes your body healthy. The complications that young people sometimes encounter – it’s surprising when you hear about young people having a heart attack – many of these complications are caused by a lack of physical movement.

It is also good for mental and spiritual vitality. Exercise is invigorating. No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s manual work, intellectual work, office duties, or scientific work, if you exercise, you’ll do those things better. This is because your mental energy will increase allowing you to work more productively. There are also other benefits, but I’m not in a position to (talk about) that.

Now as for professional sports, sporting competitions, and championships, these are very important too. One of the reasons why championships are important is that when they are present, they promote exercise in the general public. This is one of the reasons. When champions in sports gain recognition and appear in public, they encourage young people to take part in sports. This is one of the benefits of professional sports and championships. But that’s not all.

It has many other benefits as well. One of the other benefits is that championships are a source of national pride. In championships, when you participate in a global sports competition and are victorious there, it brings joy to this nation. It makes people proud. This is a very important matter. Those who are a source of joy for other people in various sports – regardless of whether it’s a personal or individual sport or team sports that are commonly played throughout the world – these people should truly be thanked and congratulated. I would like to thank all of these people. They make other people happy. They give people joy. They give us a sense of pride.

Victories achieved in sporting fields are different from other victories. Well, our nation and any other nation will have victories in different areas of life. We have achieved victories in the field of security, in the field of science, in the field of politics, and in the field of research. We have achieved victories in all kinds of fields, but these victories aren’t seen by the eyes of the people of the world.

We hide some of these on purpose. When one has gained victory in the field of national security, they don’t make this public. They hide it. But we don’t hide some of our victories and the enemy damages them, like our scientific achievements for example. The important scientific work that we’ve carried out has long been denied by the enemy’s agents in their talks and in their writings. They claim that the things we’ve done never existed. That is, it can be damaged. It can be ruined. This is either understood late or it isn’t really important to the people.

But success in the sporting field is not like this. This victory is instantaneous and so is the information. The moment you win, millions or sometimes hundreds of millions of people watch this victory with their own eyes. This is a very important victory. It’s very important and unlike other victories. It cannot be hidden. Now sometimes there is injustice in refereeing. We see prejudices, and sometimes the enemies do things in this setting. But most of the time, they can’t do anything. It’s often obvious who has won. As you can see, it has a great effect and it makes your friends in the world happy.

In one of our sporting competitions, I found out that – I mean I was provided with precise information – in several Islamic countries, which were Arab countries but I don’t want to name them, people had gathered around their television sets to watch a competition. As soon as they saw that Iran won, they started celebrating in the streets in public because Iran had defeated some powerful, political, insidious, evil country! That’s how it is. This victory takes place before everyone’s eyes. So here with his behavior, the Iranian athlete can combine the technical victory with the victory of values. That’s the main point here.

This means that when you win in a certain competition – for example, you have achieved a technical victory – you can combine this victory with values and a moral victory. This includes playing fairly or doing what our female athletes have done. That is, they keep their Islamic hijab, observe the Islamic limits, and show their self-confidence. This is a tremendous victory. If this is not more important than the technical victory, it is not less.

So I strongly urge you to tell our dear athletes that they shouldn’t forget this aspect of victory in the sporting arena. They should be careful not to trample on values for the sake of a medal. Sometimes a person might be deprived of a medal when the athlete refuses to compete with his/her opponent who has been sent by the usurping regime. He/she is deprived of getting the medal, but he/she is victorious. If anyone violates this principle, it means that he/she’s violating his/her moral victory for the sake of obtaining a technical victory in appearances. If you compete with that opponent, if you face them, it means that you’ve officially recognized the usurping regime – the regime that murders children, that mass murderer.

Therefore, no matter what interests are at stake here, it’s still not worth it for someone to (compete against that opponent). This is where we hear the leaders of arrogant powers and their followers, and in fact the servants of the world’s superpowers, raising their voices to say, “Hey, don’t politicize sports!”

You’ve seen what they have done with sports after the war in Ukraine! They banned some countries from participating in sporting events for political reasons. That is, they cross their own red lines with ease when it’s in their interest. But then when our athlete refuses to compete with a Zionist opponent, they complain about it.

Well, let me say one more thing and I will finish for today. Our champions and our beloved athletes who participate in these arenas, both inside the country and internationally, should note that they are not only on camera inside the arena. (Rather,) the cameras are on them outside the arena as well. Public opinion, different eyes, and sometimes ill-wishers are watching them in order to find a moral weakness in them or a weakness in their behavior that they can use to wipe away the victory that person had achieved in the sporting event. He wins on the field but is hurt by vices outside the field. (Therefore,) they should be mindful of their behavior outside the sporting arena and know that they should protect their dignity, honor, and reputation. They should protect their own reputation and the reputation of their people and country. A large number of traps are laid out to catch our athletes.

Of course, the sports environment in our country in the past was always a religious environment before these western sports entered our country. The ancient sports, the Zurkhanehs (for practicing the traditional Iranian sport) and the old gymnasiums that we had seen were all decorated with the name of God and the names of the Imams, and they had religious and moral aspects to them.

The west tried to export their culture with these new, advanced sports that they brought into the country. What is our duty then? Our duty is to learn the new sports that the other side has created, such as football, volleyball, and the other sports that exist, team sports. Let’s advance in these and become professional in them without accepting their culture. We shouldn’t let this turn into a bridge for western culture. Our own culture should prevail over theirs. This is the basic matter that we should pay attention to in sports.

Anyway, I pray for all of you. That dear young man asked me to pray for him. Yes, I will definitely pray for you and ask the Almighty God to grant you success, felicity, and a good outcome. I would also like to sincerely thank those who have worked hard in these fields – the female athletes, the young athletes – who have shown their spirituality and their Iranian, Islamic identity in sporting arenas. I ask God to grant all of them success. By the will of God, may the pure souls of the athletes who were martyred and all martyrs be satisfied with us, and may God unite us with them.

May God’s greetings, mercy and blessings be upon you.

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