We listened to the testimony of a prominent face in Iran’s basketball and sports world

It’s difficult to penetrate the blanket of silence that is suffocating Iran’s major sports personalities. In recent weeks of protests and popular uprisings, we’ve read the powerful words of Sardar Azmoun, the ‘Messi of Iran’ who had used his own social channels to vent his suffering. Apart from his denunciation, few testimonies from top athletes reached the international media. But it’s not easy to expose uncomfortable ideas at this moment in history, not easy to lead by example a (necessary) social revolution that is creating fear, pain, suffering, death.

Michael Rostampour decided to do so. ‘Mike,’ born in Minnesota but of very clear Iranian descent, has long been a cornerstone of the Iranian national team and a basketball globetrotter (he played for example in Slovakia, Mexico and Canada). With ‘Team Melli’, his national team’s Persian nickname, he recently participated in the Tokyo Olympics and the 2019 Chinese World Cup. Now Mike is about to turn 31, and after winning the first national title in the history of Shahrdari Gorgan, team from the Iranian city of Gorgan, he has decided to leave the hardwood and end his professional career.

His testimony is a fundamental act of courage, it’s the reasoned scream of a sportsman known throughout his country, it’s a conscious confession that we have been fortunate to collect.

What’s happening in Iranian society?

“Iranian people want freedom. Listen to the voices in the videos you are watching. Really listen, and you will hear their demands. This situation has been under the skin of many for years, but today they’re willing to die for their freedom. Not the call to end sanctions, not the call for a nuclear agreement. They want freedom. A basic human right. There is only one side to be on”.

Why has this desire for social revolution erupted only in recent weeks?

“The murder of Mahsa Amini was felt by women all across Iran. Most, if not all women who have lived in Iran have had a negative experiences with these morality police at some point in their life. They know this result is possible because of their own experience. They know they can be killed. Not only inside Iran, but a ripple effect throughout the world has been created as a result. Rallies throughout the world are demanding for basic human rights in Iran”.

You were born in Minnesota and through basketball you have had the opportunity to travel and explore many other cultures. In your opinion, what are the conditions of Iranian women today?

“Women in the Middle East by far have the worst living conditions in the world. This is not news. Iran and Afganistan are at the very bottom. These women crave to live their life the same as their European and American counterparts. How sad is it that men in these countries allow this to happen to their own mother, sisters, friends, cousins, wife? They should feel shame. If you are not for women’s rights, you are not for humanity”.

What does it mean to be an Iranian sportsman right now?

“It means nothing. Right now the focus is on the demand from the people of Iran for basic human rights. If you are an athlete in Iran, you have a duty to speak for the voiceless. People are not stupid. Those who speak will be remembered forever, those who don’t will be forgotten”.

Did you have a chance to observe the Iranian national football team’s protest and hear the words of its star Sardar Azmoun? What do you think about it?

“As I stated previously, there is only one side to this: the demand of basic human rights for the people of Iran. Playing for ‘Team Melli’ is the greatest honor I’ve had in my life. My coach always told me, “We play for the people”. Right now thousands of my people are being slaughtered in the streets. I have a duty to speak for them. Playing in the Olympics for Iran was a dream of mine. Now I must do my part to make sure those who I represented get a chance to make their dreams come true too”.

Do you think there will be a better future for Iranian women and that they will get what they are asking for?

“Absolutely, without a doubt. Whether it happens today, tomorrow, who knows. But the will of the Iranian people will eventually come to fruition, as history has shown”.

Credits: Ashkan Mehriar
Text by Gianmarco Pacione