Iranian Panionios Footballers Condemned by Tehran

Iranian professional footballers Ehsan Haji Safi (L) and Masoud Shojaei (R)

Iran’s football federation condemned two Iranians who play for a Greek club for participating in a match against an Israeli team, Iranian media reported.

The federation “strongly condemns” the participation of Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi in a match between Greece’s Panionios against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv last week in Greece, for the Europa Cup qualifiers, it said in a statement reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.

On its Farsi-language Twitter account, Israel’s Foreign Ministry praised the players for ignoring what is considered a taboo in Iran by playing against the Israelis. Maccabi won the UEFA Europa League match 1-0, qualifying for the play-off stage.

Israel and Iran are bitter adversaries and traditionally, Iranian athletes refrain from playing Israelis. Iran’s government usually rewards such behavior.

The federation said it is reviewing the case and will make a final decision after speaking with both players who in the past have also played for the national football team. Fars reported that the two may now be banned from playing on the team again.

At a previous match against Maccabi in Tel Aviv, both had refused to play.