Iran player breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

Masoud Shojaei (Reuters)
Updated 18 August 2017

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.


NBA star Durant rules himself out for rest of season

Updated 45 min 15 sec ago

NBA star Durant rules himself out for rest of season

  • NBA star ruptured his right Achilles tendon in last June’s NBA Finals
  • Kevin Durant among a dozen NBA players who tested positive for coronavirus in the spring

LOS ANGELES: NBA superstar Kevin Durant, who has not played since he tore his Achilles tendon a year ago, said he would not make his debut with the Brooklyn Nets when the season resumes late July in Orlando.
“My season is over. I don’t plan on playing at all,” in the 2019-2020 season, Durant said in an interview Friday with The Undefeated.
“We decided last summer when it first happened that I was just going to wait until the following season. I had no plans of playing at all this season.”
The NBA suspended its season on March 11 as the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, leaving professional sport in North America at a standstill.
The league’s board of governors on Thursday gave the green light to a plan to restart the season at Disney World in Orlando, Florida on July 31, without spectators.
The news was followed by speculation over whether Durant would appear.
Durant, who was the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player for the Golden State Warriors in their 2017 and 2018 championship runs, ruptured his right Achilles tendon in last June’s NBA Finals.
He then left California to join Brooklyn, where fans were hoping he would form a formidable duet with Kyrie Irving, who also arrived last summer.
“It’s just best for me to wait. I don’t think I’m ready to play that type of intensity right now in the next month,” said Durant.
He said however that his rehab was going well.
“I’m doing well. Working out every day. I’m moving. I’m feeling like a normal player again,” he told The Undefeated.
Plans to restart the league received the approval of the players’ union on Friday, although some details remain to be ironed out.
Durant, who is among a dozen NBA players who tested positive for coronavirus in the spring, has not said whether he will accompany his teammates to Florida.