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Iran federation defends soccer player who wore jersey with Israeli flag

Mehdi Mahdavikia from Iran plays a match in Hamburg, northern Germany, Saturday, Aug 5, 2006. (AP Photo/Kai-Uwe Knoth)
Mehdi Mahdavikia from Iran plays a match in Hamburg, northern Germany, Saturday, Aug 5, 2006. (AP Photo/Kai-Uwe Knoth)

Iran’s football federation throws its weight behind former national team captain Mehdi Mahdavikia after he faced criticism for wearing a jersey bearing an Israeli flag during a friendly game.

“He is one of the greats of Iranian football” and “a symbol of pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran,” secretary-general Hassan Kamranifar says in a statement on the federation’s website.

Ultraconservative lawmakers lambasted the veteran player after he wore a jersey featuring the flags of all FIFA member countries, including Israel, during a friendly match in Qatar on December 17.

Mahdavikia “must apologize to the Iranian people for his act and must stand trial because he has betrayed the Iranian nation,” MP Bijan Nobaveh-Vatan said, according to the ultraconservative Fars news agency.

Kamranifar said Mahdavikia had handled the situation with “vigilance.” The federation spoke with him and examined the case “despite prejudice and sometimes unfair attacks,” Kamranifar adds.

Mahdavikia, 44, was named coach of Iran’s U23 team in July.

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