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Former Soccer Stars Accused Of ‘Nonchalance’, As Political Protest

Iran's national soccer team players in World Cup qualifier v. South Korea in Seoul on 17jun2009.Green waistband is seen on one player.

The documentary network affiliated with Iran’s official radio and television broadcaster, has lambasted the Iranian national soccer team for failing to qualify for the World Cup final round eight years ago.

The network accused the team of showing no desire for a win in their last World Cup qualification match against South Korea, in June 2009.

Five days after the controversial presidential election that kept incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad in office, the Iranian team played against South Korea in Seoul.

Amid clips of street protests against Ahmadinejad’s re-election, the documentary, titled Soccer Against The Enemy, harshly criticizes the team as it shows them wearing green wristbands, which were a sign of solidarity with the demonstrations at home in Iran.

Team captain Mehdi Mahdavi Kia, along with five teammates wore the symbols supporting Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Mousavi supporters insisted the election was rigged in favor of the Ahmadinejad. They poured into the streets and created unrest that left Iran shaken for more than five months.

Six players wearing green wristbands in Seoul shocked the state-run TV to the extent that it took minutes to force the authorities to censor any close-up and instead showing repeated clips of South Korean spectators.

Outside the arena in Seoul, scores of Iranians had staged a protest assembly to condemn Ahmadinejad’s re-election as a sham. They carried a banner that implicitly referred to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that read “Go to Hell, Tyrant.”

However, when the team returned to the field for the second half of the match, the wristbands were gone, while Mahdavi Kia kept his green armband as captain.

At the end of the match, coach Mansour Pourheidari tried to downplay the incident, saying, “The footballers wore green wristbands to pay tribute to Abol Fazl,” a Shi’ite saint.

The narrator of Soccer Against the Enemy repeatedly states, “It looks as if [the Iranian] footballers are not set to play for a unified team. It looks as if none of them seeks a victory.”

The Iranian state broadcaster is not an independent outlet. It is controlled by the Supreme Leader’s office.

Moreover, the narrator also repeatedly describes the match as a defeat, whereas Iran’s home and away matches against South Korea ended in a 1-1 draw.

The soccer players have not yet reacted to the documentary.