Iranian soccer player Mehdi Mahdavikia sparked controversy in Iranian media after he played in a showcase match with an Israeli coach at the FIFA Arab Cup.

The showcase match at the FIFA Arab Cup starred former soccer players from Arab countries and around the world. The team of world legends was coached by Israeli Avram Grant. Three Algerian soccer players withdrew from the match and a number of Arab players erased the Israeli flags from their shirts in protest against Grant’s involvement.

Iran has a general policy of not allowing athletes to compete against Israeli competitors. The policy has sparked pressure by Israel and its supporters to ban Iran from competing in a variety of sports unless it allows its athletes to play against Israeli athletes.
The Kayhan newspaper, associated with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, attacked the soccer player for playing in a match “unrelated to Iran, dressed in the flag of the Zionist regime and against a team coached by a Zionist.” The newspaper expressed outrage that Mahdavikia had not issued a statement to “openly express his hatred” of Israel and demanded that he do so.

The Fars News Agency also expressed outrage that Mahdavikia had not apologize for taking part in the match. The news agency added that the soccer player tried to make the issue seem “trivial.” The article questioned why the Sports Ministry had remained silent on the issue.

Amid the controversy, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, an Iranian soccer player who plays on the country’s national team, expressed support for Mahdavikia by posting a photo of the two together in his Instagram story, according to ILNA.

Former Iranian Football Federation’s moral charter secretary Hojatoleslam Alireza Alipour also expressed support for the soccer player, saying that Mahdavikia did not know in advance that an Israeli coach would be involved. Alipour expressed outrage that some members of the Iranian parliament had attacked the soccer player without actually looking into the issue.

Alipour stated that he personally followed up on the issue and found that claims that Iraqi soccer player Younis Mahmoud had said that Mahdavikia did not erase the flag were false and that Mahmoud had confirmed that the Iranian soccer player had also erased the Israeli flag from his uniform.

Rumors spread on Sunday that Mahdavikia had decided to resign from his position as head coach of Iran’s Omid national football team, although his brother told the Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) that the rumors were false and if he made such a decision he would announce it himself. His brother also claimed that “it was very clear” that Mahdavikia was one of the players who crossed the Israeli flag off of his shirt.

The controversy in Iran comes less than a week after Syrian soccer player Firas Al-Khatib was expelled from Syria’s national team after he played in the showcase match.

The Syrian Olympic Committee announced that Al-Khatib was being expelled from the National Olympic Committee and General Sports Federation for “violating the values and ideals of the organization and deviating from its national principles.”

Al-Khatib, for his part, expressed shock at the Syrian Olympic Committee’s decision, writing in a post on his social media accounts that the penalty was “unjust” and that he was not summoned in advance to provide answers about the situation.

Al-Khatib stated that, despite Grant’s participation, he decided to take part in the match “due to his concern for the presence of Syria’s name on such a festive occasion.” He added that he was “surprised” by the presence of the Israeli flag on the shirt he wore and that he had clearly removed the flag from the shirt, as did a number of other players.

Source » jpost