Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Forced Retirements in Iranian Football

Mir-Hossein Mousavi Khameneh. As if you didn't know.

While we don't often delve into politics around here, the situation in Iran is having a direct impact on football, and if that is what it takes to get us to pay attention, then so be it. We have already established that former (current?) president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thinks that the post-election protests are no worse than your typical footy-related riot. You know, improper elections, losing to Oman. Tomayto-tomahto.

See, when your country has a bit of an issue with secularity and democracy (what, you don't really believe that the Iranian president is in charge of the country, do you?), and the younger generation are increasingly embarrassed by/disgusted with the Holocaust-denying, US-baiting president, it would seem important to have fair elections. Of course, given those issues it is unlikely that a fair election would occur. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected in a "landslide" victory, mostly due to votes being tallied in areas that exceeded the number of registered voters in those areas. This caused hundreds of thousands to march in the streets of Tehran, resulting in the death of hundreds at the hands of the Basij.

In times such as these, clearly dangerous for protesters, no act of protest can be considered small. So the world was surprised, and impressed, when the Iranian national team wore green wristbands in support of Mousavi, the opposition candidate, during their World Cup Qualifier against South Korea last Wednesday. Sadly, we were not surprised when those same wristbands were missing in the 2nd half of that match. Clearly, an Iranian official had told the players to remove them as they were an affront to Ahmadinejad. However, those officials could not admit that the players were supporting the opposition candidate, so we were all told that the wristbands were religious symbols and that they were removed to avoid "speculation and misunderstanding."

Still, if those were truly religious symbols then the players should have nothing to fear from the Iranian government, right? Well, it turns out that those Iranian officials may been lying. I know, it's shocking!

Following the arrest of Mohsen Safayi Farahani, the former president of Iranian football, on Saturday, four of the players to have sported the green wristbands on the pitch have been given lifetime bans by the Iranian Football Federation. Ali Karimi (31 years old), Mehdi Mahdavikia (32), Hosein Ka'abi (24!) and Vahid Hashemian (32) have all been forcibly retired from the entire sport (both international and domestic competition) and it is unclear if they would have to appeal to FIFA to be reinstated if they wished to play in another domestic league. The footballing fate of other players to have worn the wristband is unknown at this time, but I would suggest treading lightly around Tehran. Mahdavikia, in particular, may want to take special care as he kept his green captain's armband throughout the entire match despite the half-time admonitions. However, none of the 4 have too many options for fleeing the country to protect themselves, as the Iranian Football Federation did not return their passports.

As the situation in Iran continues to deteriorate (people won't be happy that the Guardian Council is refusing to re-run the election), we should keep an eye on the fate of these 4 faces of the opposition movement.


Mike Georger said...

If I know one thing in life for certain, it's that the USA should back a guy who is the cousin of the Ayatollah, because that will clearly be the best course to make sure Iran is on the track to freeing itself of the Ayatollah's clutches.

/serious comment for the month

Anonymous said...

If I understand this post correctly, the players are currently in Iran and unable to leave, right? It's unfortunate that they couldn't have staged a Cuban-style defection while they were abroad for competition, as I'm sure they could have found a country to accept them as refugees and allow them to play for a club in their domestic league. Of course, there are all sorts of other risks with a plan like that, including having your family back in Iran suffer the consequences. It's just depressing, and shows how much of a sham Iran's "democracy" really is.

The NY Kid said...

yes, the IFF took the team back to Tehran after the South Korea match, but didn't give those 4 players back their passports (I'm assuming an IFF official is in charge of all the passports during national team matches abroad).

The Fan's Attic said...

The one thing I have learned in traveling abroad is that you never, ever, ever, let go of that passport. I'll hand over all my credit cards, money and clothes before I'd hand that thing over.

The Fan's Attic said...

I'm not saying the Iranians really had a choice, but that is my policy.

Migranol said...

Im using your sources to write a post on my football blog, of course, with the links to your posts.

I think that is great that football bloggers involve themselves in some of the political aspects of the game, and this is one news that needs to be publish and forwarded around the world.

greetins from Chile and keep up the good work!!

Migranol said...

nearly forgot, here is the link to the article


Mike Georger said...

"never, ever, ever, let go of that passport"

I lost my passport, the last think I remember is throwing up a pitcher of Margaritas on it. If there's a terrorist who can pass for a Kevin James lookalike with a pompadour and huge red mutton chops, more power to him.

Andrew said...

Defection in any case would not have resembled defection from Cuba. IIRC, all six of the players who wore green wristbands were already based outside Iran and would not have needed a country to "accept them as refugees and allow them to play for a club in their domestic league."

The NY Kid said...

@Andrews - indeed, most of them actually played in Germany. I guess my question was how the "ruling" of the Iranian Football Federation that these players are banned from football for life would apply in other countries. Despite the prior FIFA sanctioning of the IFF, the latter are currently a member in good standing, so I don't what FIFA's position would be regarding whether the ban from a national team level would apply even to foreign domestic leagues (i.e. domestic leagues outside of Iran).

However, the point may be moot since these players can't even leave Iran to attend training in Germany as they don't have their passports. And may wind up dead.

Bigus Dickus said...

"I'll hand over all my credit cards, money and clothes before I'd hand that thing over."

@TFA. What if I ask nicely?