Iranian soccer player: My country is my priority

Iranian soccer player who played against an Israeli team says he had no intention of causing offense.

Elad Benari, Canada ,

Soccer (illustration)
Soccer (illustration)
iStock

One of two Iranian soccer players who were threatened with a lifetime ban after playing against an Israeli club broke his silence on Friday, saying he had no intention of causing offense.

“My country has always been and will be my priority,” wrote midfielder Masoud Shojaei on his Instagram page, according to AFP.

“I have always tried to work wholeheartedly to be a suitable representative for the country,” he added.

Last week, Shojaei and teammate Hajji Safi were banned for life from the Iranian national team as a punishment for playing in a Europa League qualifier with their Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

However, Iran appeared to cancel the ban after a huge outcry from soccer 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 Hajji Safi have no place in Iran’s national football team anymore 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, according to AFP, in a reference 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.

Iran, which does not recognize Israel, prohibits athletes or competitors in other fields from competing against Israelis.

This past February, a 15-year-old Iranian chess player was banned from the national team after he played against an Israeli opponent at an international chess event.

In 2011, Iranian chessmaster Ehsan Ghaem Maghami was expelled from an international chess tournament after refusing to play an Israeli opponent.

Last year, an Iranian refused to compete against an Israeli at a chess tournament in Switzerland in order to reject the existence of "the Zionist state".

In 2010, an Iranian contestant withdrew from a Taekwondo match against Israel’s Gili Haimovitz, who won a gold medal by default.

In 2012, Iranian athletes announced their intention to boycott competitions against Israelis at the London Olympics.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)




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