Soccer coach who worked in Iran: I never met anyone who favors regime

Winfried Schäfer also said that Iranians are scared, in a way that is hard to understand for someone who does not live in the country.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group B - Morocco vs Iran - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 15, 2018 General view of a banner displayed referencing Iranian women during the match (photo credit: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ)
Soccer Football - World Cup - Group B - Morocco vs Iran - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 15, 2018 General view of a banner displayed referencing Iranian women during the match
(photo credit: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ)
Former German soccer player and coach Winfried Schäfer spoke to German publication t-online.de and said that during the time he spent in Iran, he never met anyone who supports the regime of the ayatollah. Schäfer worked in Iran for two years, managing government-owned soccer club Esteghlal, one of the most popular teams in the country.
"In two years, I never met a person who was in favor of the regime, and I speak of people from very different backgrounds –industrialists, academics, football players, taxi drivers and even ministers," Schäfer said, as quoted by Radio Farda.
"The people I've met, no matter young or old, are not at all in line with the [Islamic] regime," he added, also highlighting that Iranians are scared, in a way that is hard to understand for someone who does not live in Iran.
The report also honored the memory of Sahar Khodayari, a 29-year-old woman who set herself on fire in front of a Tehran court in September in protest of a six-month prison sentence she was possibly facing for trying to enter a men's soccer game back in March. She eventually succumbed to her wounds.
Khodayari was a big Esteghlal fan and became known in the country and abroad as "Blue Girl," after the team's color.
Following her death, world soccer's governing body FIFA and women's rights campaigners pressured Tehran to lift the ban on women attending soccer matches. On Thursday, for the first time in 40 years, female fans were allowed to attend a game between the Iranian national team and Cambodia in a World Cup qualifying match.
It is still not clear whether the general regulation preventing women from entering the stadiums during matches will be permanently abandoned.
"Football is highly political [in Iran], on the one hand, and some clubs embody political positions or ethnic minorities, on the other," Schäfer said.
"Football matches have, for many years, been the only way to gather and protest in public," he noted. "Take my ex-club, Esteghlal. The club, founded by the Shah, symbolizes the good old days. Millions of fans love Esteghlal because the club is a symbol of another Iran."
The coach left the Tehran-based club in July when he was appointed as the new manager of the Emirati team Baniyas.


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