Iran Bans Two Soccer Players for Life After They Played Against Israeli Team

Masoud Shojaei of Iran and Azizbek Kheydarov of Uzbekistan in action during FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier match between Iran and Uzbekistan, June 12, 2017 in Tehran, Iran / Getty

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Two members of Iran's national soccer team have been banned for life because they played in a game against an Israeli team.

The two players, Masoud Shojaei, the national team captain, and Ehsan Haji Safi, played last week for their Greek club against an Israeli team. Iran's hardline Islamic government does not recognize the State of Israel and will not allow its athletes to compete in any contest against Israelis, including the Olympics.

"It is certain that Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi will never be invited to join the national football team because they violated the red line," Mohammad Reza Davarzani, Iran's deputy sports minister, said Thursday on Iranian state television.

TheĀ New York TimesĀ reports:

Critics in Iran say the ban on competing against Israel has hurt the development of Iranian athletes, forcing them to forfeit or pull out of competitions in which they might face Israeli athletes. But hard-liners in the republic insist that ideology trumps sports.

Last year, the Iranian Olympian Alireza Khojasteh withdrew from the judo competition at the Rio Games, citing personal reasons. It is widely thought that he did so to avoid the possibility of facing an Israeli opponent.

It took Iranian officials more than a week to announce the suspension of the two soccer players, who both played the full 90 minutes in their team's 0-1 defeat in the second leg of a home-and-away series in the UEFA Europa League third qualifying round. Iran's Parliament, in a special meeting of the foreign policy committee on Sunday, had already denounced the two players.

The foreign policy committee of Iranian parliament rebuked the players and said it was "disrespectful of the rights of thousands of martyrs and those displaced and affected by the occupying Zionist regime."

The United States government considers Iran to be the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism.

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