EAbout twenty Iranian athletes have asked the international football association FIFA to exclude the Iranian association and thus the country’s national team from the World Cup in Qatar in view of the repression against the civil rights movement in Iran. The request from the athletes, one of whom is still active, was sent to FIFA President Gianni Infantino on Tuesday by Spanish lawyer Juan de Dios Crespo.
Crespo said in an interview with the FAZ that the names of the signatories, some of them from “the absolute top class of their sports”, were available to FIFA, but should not be mentioned at this point in time, mainly for fear of repression against family members in Iran.
Three motions to exclude Iran
It is known that the FIFA-accredited referee Mohammadreza Faghani, the brother of the world-class referee Alireza Faghani who emigrated to Sweden, the former world-class judoka and current coach Vahid Sarlak, who lives in Germany, and the former national soccer player Shiva Amini are among the signatories. FIFA must react and he expects the FIFA Council to deal with it at their meeting in Auckland on Saturday, Crespo said on the phone.
“The ball is in their hands. Looking ahead to the World Cup, time is short, yes, but I’ll say right now that we won’t stop at the World Cup. We will also take our application to the Asian Football Association and the International Olympic Committee after the World Cup in view of the human rights violations and rule-breaking.”
With the application, FIFA now has three applications for the exclusion of Iran from the World Cup. The activists of the women’s rights organization “Open Stadiums” had already called for the exclusion three weeks ago. In both cases, there has been no public reaction from FIFA.
In addition, former World Junior Wrestling Champion Sardar Pashaei wrote to FIFA Deputy Secretary General Mattias Grafstrom on behalf of the United for Navid campaign, also calling for the Iranian national team to be excluded from the World Cup. The campaign was founded after the execution of wrestler Navid Afkari on September 12, 2020. Pashaei had worked as a coach for the Iranian junior wrestlers before emigrating to the United States in 2009 and was, by his own admission, a friend of Afkari’s coach.
In his letter to Infantino, Crespo, a renowned sports lawyer with a practice in Valencia who was involved in several hundred cases at the International Court of Arbitration for Sports, argues that the autonomy of the federation has been violated in the case of Iran. He points out that FIFA had already suspended the association in 2006.
National player arrested
In fact, however, it is the case that “FIFA only symbolically intervenes if the leadership of the association that suits you is removed. As we can see, the association implements the government’s repressive agenda and acts as its administrator. That contradicts the essence of the association’s autonomy.” In the past few weeks, several active and former Iranian soccer players have been sanctioned by state bodies. National team player Hossein Mahini was arrested, Ali Daei, the national team’s record goalscorer, had his passport revoked, and top club Esteghlal’s professional, Aref Gholami, was banned from training. The background to each was social media postings in which support for the protests in the country was expressed and the repressive government policy was criticized.
“Apparently, the Iranian FA lacks the autonomy to implement the statutes, regulations and, most importantly, cherished values of FIFA,” reads the motion, which also argues that the unequal treatment of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran and its sports organizations manifestly violates the right to equal treatment enshrined in the FIFA Statutes. Article 4 paragraph 2 of the FIFA Statutes allows the FIFA Council to waive the requirement of political neutrality if an association violates the goals of FIFA laid down in the Statutes. This includes the protection and promotion of human rights.
It is difficult to assess how the Iranian population would feel about the team being excluded. Statements on social networks clearly show sympathy for the exclusion from the tournament. In the Telegram channel of the sports portal “Varzesh 3”, which has a million followers, a report by the British “Telegraph”, in which an exclusion of Iran is discussed, was given more than 11,000 likes with around 1,200 dislikes on Wednesday. At the same time, the journalist Masih Alinejad, who emigrated to the United States and is now an activist for women’s rights, is named as the “US contact” as the contact person for the application to FIFA to exclude the national team.
Alinejad has enjoyed popularity among young Iranian women since she urged them to renounce the Hejab with the online campaign “My stealthy freedom” starting in 2014. This has made her a prominent enemy of the Islamic Republic and one of the most well-known voices in the Iranian diaspora. However, her good contacts with the US government during President Donald Trump’s term in office were also criticized by Iranians, who reject the Islamic Republic and at the same time have suffered from the sanctions tightened under Trump. “The goal is to first suspend the football association and then the entire sports system,” Alinejad tweeted on Wednesday evening, referring to the application to FIFA. “A murderous regime and its officials should not be allowed to perform freely in international sports arenas.”