Possible sanctions against athletes.

Iranian athletes could face punishment if they don’t participate in annual Quds Day marches across the country later this month, according to IranWire, in what would be yet another example of state interference in sports.

The Islamic Republic’s authorities are organizing the rallies on the last Friday of the Islamic month of Ramadan, which this year falls on April 14, in solidarity with the Palestinians.

A directive seen by IranWire and signed by Karamali Iraji, the deputy director-general of the Ministry of Sports and Youth, says that athletes are required to attend the rallies, citing the “noble cause of…the Palestinian resistance,” a resolution of the Coordination Council for Islamic Propagation and instructions by the Tehran Governorate.

The directive was agreed upon last week during a meeting between Minister of Sports and Youth Hamid Sajjadi and his deputies.

The source at the Ministry of Sports and Youth who provided the document to IranWire said that copies were sent to all provincial sports boards across the country.

The ministry is considering possible incentives for athletes who will attend the state-sanctioned rallies and punishment for those who won’t, the source said.

Iranian sports has become increasingly politicized. Most sports bodies had been taken over by political or security-military organizations, with former members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps holding key positions in clubs and federations. Many footballers were sanctioned or punished for their support of the protests including Ali Karimi, Aldi Daei, Vouria Ghafouri.

Earlier this year, the European Union imposed sanctions on Sajjadi for pressuring Iranian athletes into silence, including climber Elnaz Rekabi who competed in South Korea without mandatory headscarves amid widespread anti-government protests inside Iran.

Last month, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said it had “expressed serious concerns over the past few months vis-à-vis the situation of the Iranian athletes and the Olympic community as a whole in the current context of the upheavals and demonstrations in the country.”

The IOC has urged the Iranian National Olympic Committee to “take appropriate action with the highest authorities to protect the athletes and members of the Olympic community from a humanitarian perspective.”

The statement warned that the IOC Executive Board “reserves the right to take any appropriate action” relating to the participation of the Iranian NOC and athletes in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, “depending on the developments in this situation.”