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Ground Rules For Playing Against Israel Needed

Iranian senior legislator, Ali Motahari, undated.

Ground rules needed for Iranian athletes who face Israeli competitors, outspoken Tehran MP and deputy speaker of the Iranian Parliament Ali Motahari has suggested.

Referring to a message written by Ihsan Hajsafi, Iranian sportsman who played for his Greek club against an Israeli soccer team, Motahari called upon the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry to compile instructions and set ground rules for future similar cases.

Calling Hajsafi’s message praiseworthy, Motahari noted, “Hajsafi has admitted that avoiding the match against Israeli club was compulsory. It’s a commendable admission, and I am absolutely sure [Hajsafi’s teammate] Masoud Shojaei also thinks on the same wavelength.”

“Regretfully, people of our country, with a justified broken heart, were forced to judge an incident that should have not had happened. However, do not forget that we [athletes] have always tried to bring a smile to the lips of 80 million Iranians.”

Hajsafi has also called Mohsen Hojaji an “obvious paragon of sacrifice” who lost his life for security and revolutionary aspirations.

Mohsen Hojaji, a member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) was captured in Syria reportedly by the Islamic State militants on August 7 and decapitated two days later.

An unwritten law in Iran forbids Iranian athletes from competing with Israeli rivals and teams, while international sports bodies insist politics be kept out of sports events.

Meanwhile, Motahari hoped that Hajsafi’s message would end the row over Iranian soccer players who played the Israeli club, Maccabi-Tel Aviv, adding, “The Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry, in consultation with the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council, could set guidelines for cases where Iranian athletes face Israeli rivals or compete in a match that is refereed by an Israeli.”

Earlier, on August 10, sports ministry deputy Mohammad Reza Davarzani declared, “Both players have lost their spots on the Iranian National Team. … They have crossed Iran's red line.”

Nevertheless, FIFA's statutes ban political interference in its affiliated national associations, which can be suspended if the rule is breached.

“We are currently monitoring the matter and will request additional information from the Iran Football Federation,” said a FIFA spokesperson shortly after the incident.

If a country's FA is suspended, it means both the national team and its clubs are barred from international competition.

Iran has already qualified for next year's World Cup, making it an especially delicate matter for FIFA.

FIFA statutes state that “each member association shall manage its affairs independently and without undue influence from third parties.”

Shojaei and Hajsafi played for their Greek club side, Panionios of Athens, against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv. Shojaei, the captain of Iran’s National Football team, and teammate Hajsafi played for a full 90 minutes against the Israeli club, on August 3 in Athens.

Panionios lost the home match 0-1, with Maccabi Tel Aviv advancing to the playoff round 2-0 on aggregate.

The Israeli club Shojaei and Hajsafi played against was founded in 1906, more than four decades before the creation of the state of Israel.