First Published: 2017-08-18

Iranian footballer breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis
Masoud Shojaei and teammate Haji Safi banned for life from Iranian national team for playing in Europa League qualifier against Israeli club Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Middle East Online

Portaits of Iranian ayatollahs seen at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran

TEHRAN - One of two Iranian footballers threatened with a lifetime ban after playing against an Israeli club broke his silence on Friday, saying he had no intention of causing offence.

"My country has always been and will be my priority," wrote midfielder Masoud Shojaei on his Instagram page.

"I have always tried to work wholeheartedly to be a suitable representative for the country."

It came a week after news he and teammate Haji Safi had been banned for life from the national team for playing in a Europa League qualifier with their Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The Iranian government does not recognise Israel and bars its sportsmen from participating against Israelis in any event, including at the Olympics.

Iran appeared to row back the ban after a huge outcry from football fans on social media and the launch of an investigation by FIFA, which has rules against political interference in national teams.

The ISNA news agency reported that the Iran Football Federation had denied the ban in a letter to FIFA on August 13.

That was despite a statement from Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani, saying "Shojaei and Haji Safi have no place in Iran's national football team any more because they crossed the country's red line."

In his Instagram post, Shojaei appeared to respond to critics who said his appearance against an Israeli team had "disrespected" Iranian martyrs.

"I am the child of war and come from a town of sacrifice and resistance," he said, referring to the brutal eight-year conflict against Iraq in the 1980s.

"I well understand the status of those dear ones who gave everything to defend us and God forbid, I will never try to abuse the name, image and sacrifice of these angels," he wrote.

Shojaei and Safi had refused to play in the away leg against Maccabi in Israel, but took part in the second leg in Greece on August 4. It did not help Panionios, who lost 0-1 and 0-2 on aggregate.

Current and former top players, including Ali Karimi and Mehdi Taremi, expressed support for their colleagues, saying they had no choice but to play the game.

But Iran Football Federation vice president Ali Kafashian told the Mizan Online website that they shouldn't have played "even if their contracts would have been terminated."

Shoejaei had already risked the ire of conservatives in June when he called on the newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani to lift the ban on women spectators in Iranian stadiums.

Iran's national team has been on a winning streak of late, winning six of its last eight group matches to secure a place at the 2018 World Cup finals.

Shojaei played 70 minutes in the last match, a 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan in June, while Safi remained on the bench.

 

UN Security Council lenient to Turkey’s Syria offensive

Washington probes Hezbollah ‘narcoterrorism’

Morocco's king appoints five new ministers

Russia pension funds may invest in Aramco IPO

Iranian woman skydiver looks to break down stereotypes

Qatar supports Turkey’s offensive against Kurds

World powers meet on Syria chemical attacks

Turkey arrests dozens accused of ‘terror propaganda’

Pence pledges US embassy move by end of 2019 on Jerusalem trip

Russia calls for diplomatic solution to Yemen conflict

Russia invites Kurds to join Syria peace process

Turkey shells Kurdish targets in northern Syria

Closer look at pro-Ankara rebels amassing around Afrin

Pence set for Palestinian snub

Abbas to ask EU to recognise Palestinian state

Saudi-led coalition to give $1.5 bln in Yemen aid

Mattis: Turkey gave US advance warning on Syria operation

Yemen releases budget for first time in three years

Saudi calls for cooperation between OPEC, non-OPEC countries

France presses Turkey to end offensive against Kurds

The changing faces of al-Qaeda in Syria

Kurdish militia fire rockets at Turkish town

Moroccans wary depreciation of dirham could raise cost of living, despite benefits

Deserted streets, terrified civilians after Turkey attacks Afrin

Iraqi, Kurdish leaders hold talks on bitter regional dispute

Russia-led Syria peace congress to be held January 30

Turkey launches new strikes on Kurdish targets in Syria

Egypt's Sisi says will stand for re-election

Pence heads to Mideast despite Muslim, Christian anger

Assad regime says Syria a 'tourist' destination

Journalists arrested while reporting Sudan protests

Aid for millions of Palestinians hostage to politics

Lebanon thwarts holiday attacks using IS informant

Mortar fire wounds 14 in Syria mental hospital

Turkish military fires on Kurdish forces in Syria's Afrin

More than 32,000 Yemenis displaced in intensified fighting

UN warns of "lost generation" in South Sudan's grinding conflict

Saudi's refined oil exports offset crude curbs

US to overtake Saudi as world’s second crude oil producer

Turkey's EU minister rejects any option other than full membership

Sudan clamps down on journalists covering bread protests

Tribal feuds spread fear in Iraq's Basra

Turkey says not reassured by US comments on border force

UN chief wants to revive Syria gas attack probe

US has no intention to build border force in Syria