Iran Slaps Lifetime Ban On Four Soccer Protesters

Four of the six players on the Iranian National Team who wore green wristbands last Wednesday to show their solidarity with Iranian protesters have been banned from the team for life by the nation’s governing soccer body, according to several reports.

Ali Karimi

(Ali Karimi)

The match, against South Korea in Seoul, ended in a 1-1 draw and ended Iran’s quest to qualify for the World Cup. but a lot more was at stake for six players who wore the wristbands to show support for opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, whom protesters believe had the June 12 election stolen from him in favor of government candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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 12 June election was stolen.

Most of the players obeyed instructions to remove the armwear 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.

Iranian National Team

If you’re like me, you’re wondering why anyone would want to play for the Iranian National Team in the first place. Karimi, who once played for Bayern Munich, is one of Iran’s best-known stars, and the other three also have international experience. Two — Hashemian and Mahdavikia — currently play for the German teams Bochum and Eintracht Frankfurt, respectively.

But the Iranian government pulled the players’ passports as soon as they returned to Tehran, leaving their futures in the game uncertain. It must be a nightmare to love your country and want to represent it in the sport in which you excel, but have it ruled by a dictatorship that would treat you like that.

And of course there are those who say that political protest has no place in international sports to begin with. Should the players have left the wristbands in the lockerroom to begin with?

So anyway, this game seems to be in doubt.