FIFA probing Iran's ban on footballers who played against Israelis

Iraq's Dhurgham Ismael (L) and Iran's Masoud Shojaei during their Asian Cup match in Canberra on January 23, 2015
Mark Graham (AFP)
For years Iran has stringently enforced a policy that prohibits its athletes from competing against Israelis

Soccer's world governing body, FIFA, is examining the Iranian government's decision to slap a life ban from playing for the national squad on two players who defied a state boycott and competed against an Israeli team. 

Last week Ehsan Haji Safi, 27 and Masoud Shojaei, 33, were condemned by the Iranian football association after they opted to participate in a match against Maccabi Tel Aviv while playing for their Greek club, Panionios. 

On Thursday, a government minister announced their decision to ban them from the national team, of which Shojaei is a captain.

“It is certain that Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi will never be invited to join the national football team because they violated the red line,” Iran's deputy sports minister, Mohammad Reza Davarzani, was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

The Iranian reaction has prompted the interest of the global soccer body, whose statues prohibit political interference in the running of its member bodies, which includes the Football Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

"We are currently monitoring the matter and will request additional information from the Iran Football Federation," said a FIFA spokesperson told Reuters news agency on Friday.. "We have no further comment for the time being."

The Reuters report said Iran's decision to punish the players - who had avoided an earlier match against Maccabi by claiming injury - may compromise Iran's qualification for the next World Cup and could even lead to its suspension from FIFA and thus international competition. 

For years Iran has stringently enforced a policy that prohibits its athletes or competitors in any field from competing against Israelis, with even Olympic level athletes frequently pulling out of matches.

Many Iranians spoke out on social media after the furor in Greece, the New York Times reported Thursday, complaining that the policy is thwarting the careers of local sportspeople. 

Read more: Iran bans soccer players for life after they competed against Israelis



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