Tuesday, June 23, 2009
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.