Iran has dropped two soccer players from its national team for having played against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv for their Greek club Panionios last week, the Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah reported on Thursday.
Iran’s Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani said the two, Haji Safi and Masoud Shojaei, could no longer wear the national shirt after they played against the Israeli club in the Europa League third qualifying round second leg in Greece.
"Shojaei and Haji Safi have no place in Iran's national football team anymore because they crossed the country's red line," Davarzani was quoted as having told state television.
"They have a financial contract with a club to be paid and play for that team, but to play with the representative of a loathsome regime... this is not acceptable for Iranian people," he added.
The two players had refused to play in the away leg in Israel despite facing "pressure" and "financial fines" from their club, the sports ministry said, but they played in the second leg in Greece on August 4, according to the Daily Sabah.
The decision to ban them from the national team came a week after they were condemned by Iran for playing against an Israeli team.
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.