Iran says it’s been banned from hosting international soccer
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Iran says it’s been banned from hosting international soccer

Iranian soccer federation doesn’t specify whether ban, handed down by Asian Football Confederation, is linked to shoot down of passenger plane

Illustrative: Supporters of the Iranian national soccer team cheer during the 2018 World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Uzbekistan at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on June 12, 2017. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)
Illustrative: Supporters of the Iranian national soccer team cheer during the 2018 World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Uzbekistan at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on June 12, 2017. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Iran’s soccer federation said Friday it has been told it will not be hosting any international matches on Iranian soil.

The federation said it received a letter from the Asian Football Confederation saying that all matches involving Iranian teams will be held in a third country.

The Iranians did not say if any reason was given or if the decision is related to the accidental shoot down of a Ukrainian jetliner last week, which killed all 176 people on board.

The AFC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Iran is fully ready to host various teams as it has repeatedly proven during the past several years,” Amirmahdi Alavi, a spokesman for the Iranian federation, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.

He pointed to Iran’s hosting of the 2018 AFC Champions League final at Azadi Stadium in the capital, Tehran, as an example. He also said the Sports Ministry has provided the required security guarantees to the AFC.

Iran’s Mehdi Taremi (R) plays the ball during the international friendly soccer match between Iran and Uzbekistan at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran, Iran on May 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Iran’s federation, which has four teams in the AFC Champions League, said it would meet with AFC officials to express its opposition to the decision.

Last season the Iranian teams played Saudi teams in the United Arab Emirates; the Saudi teams did not travel to Iran because the two countries severed diplomatic relations in 2016.

In October, Iran allowed women to attend a soccer match for the first in decades after coming under intense pressure from FIFA, the world body governing the sport. Iran faced a potential ban if it didn’t allow women into the match.

That pressure had grown both with FIFA and Iran’s soccer-loving public since September, when an Iranian woman detained for dressing as a man to sneak into a soccer stadium to watch a match died after setting herself on fire upon learning she could spend six months in prison.

File: Kimia Alizadeh of Iran celebrates after winning the bronze medal in a women’s Taekwondo 57-kg competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Last week, Iran’s only female Olympic medallist Kimia Alizadeh announced she had permanently left her country, citing the “hypocrisy” of a system she claims humiliates athletes while using them for political ends.

“Should I start with hello, goodbye, or condolences?” she wrote on Instagram as Iran was reeling from Wednesday’s accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner that killed all 176 people on board.

Criticizing Iran’s political system for “hypocrisy,” “lying,” “injustice” and “flattery,” she said she wanted nothing more than “taekwondo, security and a happy and healthy life.”

She is now training in the Netherlands after defecting.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard accidentally shot the Ukrainian flight down on January 8 as it was expecting a counterattack after firing several missiles at US troops in Iraq. The missile attack was retaliation for the killing of Iran’s top general in a US airstrike.

Iranian officials initially blamed the crash on a technical problem and only admitted responsibility three days later, after Western leaders said there was mounting evidence the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile.

Alizadeh was not the first Iranian athlete to defect from Iran in recent months.

Last year, Saeid Mollaei, the defending heavyweight world champion, fled to Berlin after exposing and criticizing Tehran’s pressure on him to deliberately lose in the World Championships in Tokyo last summer in order to avoid a potential bout against an Israeli opponent.

Mollaei, who had been the defending heavyweight world champion, went on to be granted refugee status in Germany.

In this picture taken on August 28, 2019, Iran’s Saeid Mollaei (in white) fights against Belgium’s Matthias Casse. He claimed he was ordered to deliberately lose a world championship fight and could compete under a refugee flag at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, officials said on September 1. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

The International Judo Federation has thrown its support behind Mollaei, and has vowed to help him reach the summer 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

Iran does not recognize Israel and Iranian passports remind holders in bold red they are “not entitled to travel to occupied Palestine.”

Shortly after the incident, the IJF announced a decision to confirm a provisional ban on Iran over its refusal to allow its fighters to face Israeli judokas.

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