RFL/RE – Iran says it has kicked two players off the national soccer team after they played on their Greek professional squad against an Israeli club last week in the Europa League tournament. Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani on August 10 said midfielders Ehsan Haji Safi and Masoud Shojaei could no longer wear the national shirt of Iran after they played for Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv on August 4.
“Shojaei and Haji Safi have no place in Iran’s national football team anymore because they crossed the country’s red line,” Davarzani told state television.
Iran does not recognize Israel, and the countries are bitter regional rivals. Thousands of Iranians regularly participate in state-sponsored anti-Israeli rallies throughout the country.
Iranian athletes generally do not play against Israeli teams, and the government in Tehran traditionally rewards their refusal to do so.
Should the ban be maintained, Shojaei and Haji Safi will not be able to participate in the World Cup in Russia next year, for which Iran has already qualified.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda
Copyright (c) 2017 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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