Iran’s soccer team is a superpower in Asia, and has been for some time. Its history includes four appearances at the World Cup Finals, including last summer’s in Brazil, and winning the Asian Cup three times, the last time in 1976. Its level had dipped in recent decades, although it has recaptured some of its former glory of late.
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But some things never change in the ayatollahs’ Iran – such as its tough, conservative, religious attitude. Quite a few Iranian expats attend the team’s tournaments in Western countries, the vast majority of them secular (and also open-minded and sweet, judging by the ones who attended the World Cup last June). In Brazil, it was mostly men encouraging the Iranians. However, in Australia, where the Asian Cup is currently being played, there is a large Iranian immigrant community whose members also come in droves to watch the team – men, women and children alike.
This is where the “problem” lies. The Iranian women in Australia, as one can see from photographs of the crowd, dress and act like young, free women of the Western world – and we should also remember that the Asian Cup is taking place during the southern hemisphere’s summer. This means they are not dressed according to the ayatollahs’ standards of modesty. The national soccer federation has no control over that, but the fans’ affection has led several team members to pose for photos with both men and women, which has angered the authorities.
The order that emerged from Tehran was clear: The team’s players and coaching staff are absolutely forbidden to pose for selfies with female fans. The Football Federation Islamic Republic of Iran’s morals committee (yes, there is such a thing) met last week after some photographs were circulated over the social networks. In one photo, a young woman from Iran’s expat community in Australia published a photograph of herself with forward Karim Ansarifard and goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi, who is particularly popular. Another young woman held up a sign proposing marriage to him.
The prohibition issued by morals committee head Ali Akbar Mohamedzade does not mention any subject such as lack of modesty, but rather the possible exploitation of team members. “[The women] may later use these photos for political ransom against our country or sue the players for harassment,” he warned. It is not clear why selfies with men could not be used for political purposes, and it is obvious that the reason has nothing to do with politics.
We must remember that in Iran, women are not allowed to attend sports events where men are playing, “for moral reasons.” The statement also warned that players who did not obey the order would be subject to punitive measures. Iran’s official media quoted Mohamedzade as saying, “We are monitoring what is happening in Australia, we haven’t sent any representative [there].” Incidentally, Iran’s Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, is keeping tight-lipped. But he has to find a balance between his opinions and the people who are paying his salary. When asked about the prohibition, he answered, “No comment.”
Ironically, after Saturday’s quarterfinal defeat to archrival Iraq 7-6 on penalties after a thrilling 3-3 tie, the Iran players will have plenty of time to pose for selfies with fans now.