Iran excludes soccer player who played against Israeli team

Iran's excludes Masoud Shojaei from World Cup qualifiers, but denies it's punishment for him playing against an Israeli club.

Tags: Iran Soccer
Elad Benari ,

Soccer (illustration)
Soccer (illustration)

Iran's soccer federation has excluded captain Masoud Shojaei from the soccer World Cup qualifiers against South Korea and Syria, but denies it is punishment for playing against an Israeli club, AFP reported Sunday.

Shojaei and his compatriot Ehsan Haji Safi were criticized earlier this month when they turned out for their Greek side Panionios in an August 3 home Europa League qualifier against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The two were initially banned for life from the Iranian national team as a punishment, but 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.

Sunday’s squad for the World Cub qualifiers, announced by Iran’s Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz on Facebook, included Haji Safi but omitted Shojaei, noted AFP.

The initial reaction from Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani suggested the pair would both be banned for violating the country’s “red line” on Israel.

After his controversial appearance against Maccabi, Shojaej wrote on Instagram: “My country has always been and will be my priority. I have always tried to work wholeheartedly to be a suitable representative for the country.”

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 Israelisat the London Olympics.