Iranian players receive life bans for gestures

Thu, Jun 25, 2009, 01:00

IRAN FOOTBALL:THEIR GESTURE attracted worldwide comment and drew the attention of football fans to Iran’s political turmoil. Now their country has taken revenge by imposing life bans on players who sported green wristbands in a World Cup match in protest against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election.

According to the pro-government newspaper Iran, four players – Ali Karimi (31), Mehdi Mahdavikia (32), Hosein Ka’abi (24) and Vahid Hashemian (32) – have been “retired” from the sport after their gesture in last Wednesday’s match against South Korea in Seoul.

They were among six players who took to the field wearing wristbands in the colour of the defeated opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, which has been adopted by demonstrators who believe the June 12th election was stolen.

Most of the players obeyed instructions to remove the bands at half-time, but Mahdavikia wore his green captain’s armband for the entire match. The four are also said to have been banned from giving media interviews. The fate of the other two players who wore the wristbands is unknown. None of the team members was given back his passport on returning to Tehran after the match, which ended in a 1-1 draw – a result that ended Iran’s hopes of qualifying for next year’s tournament.

Karimi played for Bayern Munich, while Ka’abi played for Leicester City. Hashemian and Mahdavikia play for Bochum and Eintracht Frankfurt.

The gesture embarrassed Iranian officials. The team’s chief administrative officer, Mansour Pourhiedari, initially claimed the wristbands had been intended as a religious tribute to a revered Shia figure in the hope that this would deliver a victory on the pitch.

Iran’s hardline media have since linked the protest to the arrest on Saturday of Mohsen Safayi Farahani, who headed the country’s football governing body under the former reformist president Mohammad Khatami.

Hezbollah, a pro-Ahmadinejad website, accused Farahani, a member of the pro-reform Islamic Iran Participation Front, of bribing the players to wear the symbols. Farahani was one of several prominent figures accused by Ahmadinejad of corruption during the recent election campaign.