Some of Iran’s most famous football (soccer) players have been banned for life due to their courageous show of solidarity with protesters in the recent World Cup games. The players wore green wrist bans and four refused to take off the bands at half-time when told to do so by the government or face punishment.
The four players – Ali Karimi, 31, Mehdi Mahdavikia, 32, Hosein Ka’abi, 24 and Vahid Hashemian, 32 – have been “retired” from the sport by the authoritarian regime. Two other players agreed to take off the wrist bans at halftime and will not face a ban. Initially, The team’s chief administrative officer and resident government hack, Mansour Pourhiedari, claimed the wristbands had nothing to do with the protests and were a tribute to a revered Shia figure. Now, the government-dominated media is reporting that the players were bribed to wear the wristbands by Mohsen Safayi Farahani, who headed the country’s football governing body under the former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. He is one of several dozen opposition politicians, intellectuals and journalists to have been detained. Farahani has been arrested with other opposition figures as the government continues its deadly crackdown on protesters.
The best response from the international community is to find positions for these players on other teams and to try to secure their immigration to the West.
This move against these athletes comes as the government is actively trying to either erase memory of Neda Soltan, a martyr of the movement, or claim that her death was “staged,” here.
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