Iran player breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

Masoud Shojaei (Reuters)
Updated 18 August 2017
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Iran player breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

TEHRAN, Iran: One of two Iranian footballers threatened with a lifetime ban after playing against an Israeli club broke his silence on Friday, saying he had no intention of causing offense.
“My country has always been and will be my priority,” wrote midfielder Masoud Shojaei on his Instagram page.
“I have always tried to work wholeheartedly to be a suitable representative for the country.”
It came a week after news he and teammate Hajji Safi had been banned for life from the national team for playing in a Europa League qualifier with their Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The Iranian government does not recognize Israel and bars its sportsmen from participating against Israelis in any event, including at the Olympics.
Iran appeared to row back the ban after a huge outcry from football fans on social media and the launch of an investigation by FIFA, which has rules against political interference in national teams.
The ISNA news agency reported that the Iran Football Federation had denied the ban in a letter to FIFA on August 13.
That was despite a statement from Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani, saying “Shojaei and Hajji Safi have no place in Iran’s national football team any more because they crossed the country’s red line.”
In his Instagram post, Shojaei appeared to respond to critics who said his appearance against an Israeli team had “disrespected” Iranian martyrs.
“I am the child of war and come from a town of sacrifice and resistance,” he said, referring to the brutal eight-year conflict against Iraq in the 1980s.
“I well understand the status of those dear ones who gave everything to defend us and God forbid, I will never try to abuse the name, image and sacrifice of these angels,” he wrote.


National team coach Carlos Queiroz said this week that he was delaying naming his squad for the next international fixtures until August 27, with local media speculating he would use the extra time to talk the federation out of banning the players.
Iran face 2018 World Cup qualifiers against South Korea on August 31 and Syria on September 5, although Quieroz’s team have already booked their ticket to Russia.
Shojaei and Safi had refused to play in the away leg against Maccabi in Israel, but took part in the second leg in Greece on August 4. It did not help Panionios, who lost 1-0 to exit the competition 2-0 on aggregate.
Current and former top players, including Ali Karimi and Mehdi Taremi, expressed support for their colleagues, saying they had no choice but to play the game.
But Iran Football Federation vice president Ali Kafashian told the Mizan Online website that they shouldn’t have played “even if their contracts would have been terminated.”
Shoejaei had already risked the ire of conservatives in June when he called on the newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani to lift the ban on women spectators in Iranian stadiums.
Iran won six of their first eight World Cup qualification group matches to secure a at Russia 2018.
But if found guilty by FIFA of government interference, they could be barred from taking part.
Shojaei played 70 minutes in the last match, a 2-0 victory over Uzbekistan in June, while Safi remained on the bench.


KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

Updated 19 March 2019
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KSA’s martial arts heroine: ‘I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym’

  • Young Saudi triumphant at Open International Tournament despite just two years of training
  • Zahra Al-Qurashi took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi

JEDDAH: Zahra Al-Qurashi never expected to be where she is today: A gold medal winner in full contact kickboxing at the Open International Tournament for Clubs aged just 21. What started out as a gym class two years ago soon turned into a passion, leading to her victory in Amman on Sunday.

“I got into kickboxing by coincidence, as I just wanted to join a gym. I found the class and gave it a try, and decided to keep attending the classes,” she said. “A year ago, I joined Flagboxing Gym, and started training with my coach Grethe (Kraugerud). With her help, I developed my style and I am improving every day.”

Full contact is a discipline of kickboxing where punches and kicks must be delivered to legal areas of the body. According to the World Association for Kickboxing Organizations’ rules, it is legal to attack the front of the head and front and side of the torso, using “ankle-level foot sweeps.” It is prohibited to attack the throat, lower abdomen, back, legs, joints, back of the head and top of the shoulders.

A medal at her first international competition, then, speaks volumes about Al-Qurashi’s tenacity. She took the gold in the women’s 70 kg category, beating Jordanian Heba Wasfi.

“As soon as I entered the ring, everything went blank, I couldn’t hear or see anyone but my opponent, so I don’t really recall hearing my name even,” said Al-Qurashi. “I got a couple of really good kicks and punches, but she was a good opponent. I was in my own zone though, following every move and made sure I didn’t make mistakes.”

Zahra Al-Quraishi, 21, is already a gold medal winner at an international event despite being a virtual rookie in the demanding sport of kickboxing. (Supplied photos)

Hala Al-Hamrani, the owner of Flagboxing Gym in Jeddah, said: “I am over the moon. I have dreamt about this happening for 16 years, ever since I started coaching. My goal was to eventually provide the ladies of this country with an opportunity to compete.”

For approximately two months, Kraugerud, from Norway, oversaw Al-Qurashi’s workouts, adding more sparring, interval training and intense ring practice.

“I’ve had Zahra spar with men, who are bigger and stronger than her, to give her a sense of what to expect in the ring, to give her more confidence and make her mentally prepared,” said Kraugerud. “I was very proud of her as she entered the ring, you could see the respect for the sport reflected in her. We did a really good job at Flag, we really pushed for this together as a team. She’s young, but she’s talented and she will go far.”

Al-Hamrani, a member of the Saudi Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Federation, added: “We got her ready by providing her with the right practice and training. It’s a dream come true and it’s very overwhelming because it was such a long process for something like this to happen. Zahra is an up-and-coming athlete who hopefully has a long future and I’m extremely excited to see what that future holds.”

Abdul Aziz Julaidan, chairman of the Saudi MMA Federation, hailed the result after a tough bout between the two competitors, and thanked Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sport Authority, for the support he had given to the team.

Upon returning to her hometown of Jeddah, Al-Qurashi was greeted by her mother. “I was hugging her and crying and mom, being mom, asked if I was crying because I got hit,” she laughed. “That was her way of saying: I’m proud of you.”