Iran Bans Two Soccer Stars for Playing Against Israelis

Last year, the Iranian Olympian Alireza Khojasteh withdrew from the judo competition at the Rio Games, citing personal reasons. It is widely thought that he did so to avoid the possibility of facing an Israeli opponent.

It took Iranian officials more than a week to announce the suspension of the two soccer players, who both played the full 90 minutes in their team’s 0-1 defeat in the second leg of a home-and-away series in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round. Iran’s Parliament, in a special meeting of the foreign policy committee on Sunday, had already denounced the two players.

Photo

Ehsan Haji Safi, left, played for Panionios of Greece last week in Athens wearing a wristband representing the Iranian flag in his team’s game against Eyal Golasa and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Credit
Panagiotis Moschandreou/European Pressphoto Agency

“Agreeing to play in a game against athletes of a regime that has given humanity nothing other than occupation, murder, aggression and betrayal is disrespectful of the rights of thousands of martyrs and those displaced and affected by the occupying Zionist regime,” the spokesman for the committee, Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini, told the semiofficial Mehr news agency.

Iran’s national soccer team has been on a winning streak recently under its Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz. In June, Iran became the first team from Asia to qualify for the World Cup in Russia, defeating Uzbekistan 2-0. Mr. Shojaei played 70 minutes in that decisive game, while Mr. Haji Safi was an unused substitute watching the match from the bench.

Missing two key players a year before the World Cup tournament could undermine the team’s chances of advancing in Russia.

“This is ridiculous; there is no law against playing against Israelis, it’s a decision for every athlete to make him or herself,” said Moeen Farrokhi, 28, a supporter of Iran’s national…

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