Soccer (illustration)
Soccer (illustration) iStock

Iran's soccer federation on Wednesday threw its weight behind former national team captain Mehdi Mahdavikia after he faced criticism for wearing a jersey bearing an Israeli flag during a friendly game, AFP reports.

"He is one of the greats of Iranian soccer" and "a symbol of pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran", secretary-general Hassan Kamranifar was quoted as having said in a statement on the federation's website.

Ultraconservative lawmakers had lambasted the player after he wore a jersey featuring the flags of all FIFA member countries, including Israel, during a friendly match in Qatar on December 17.

Previous reports said Mahdavikia had been criticized for playing in a showcase match in which Israeli coach Avram Grant coached the opposing team.

Mahdavikia "must apologies to the Iranian people for his act and must stand trial because he has betrayed the Iranian nation", MP Bijan Nobaveh-Vatan said, according to the ultraconservative Fars news agency.

Kamranifar argued Mahdavikia had handled the situation with "vigilance".

The federation had spoken with him and examined the case "despite prejudice and sometimes unfair attacks", he added.

Iran has a longstanding policy of boycotting events featuring Israelis. The most famous such incident in recent years was that of Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei.

Mollaei was forced to throw a match against Israelis, even after the International Judo Federation (IJF) and Iran reached an agreement which stipulates that Iran will no longer boycott competitions against Israelis.

He later travelled to Germany to begin the process of applying for asylum. He was recognized as a refugee in Germany in November of 2019 and recently won a silver medal at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam, where he represented Mongolia.

Following the incident, the IJF imposed a four-year ban from international events on Iran.

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