Protesting Iran footballers 'forced out'

Comes after players wear green bands in World Cup qualifying match in support of opposition movement.

Iran protesting soccer captain 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Iran protesting soccer captain 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Several Teheran papers have reported that some Iranian soccer players are retiring from the national team, fueling speculation the departure was related to green bands the players wore in support of the country's opposition movement. The flurry of conflicting reports on the fate of the players hails back to the incident last week, when several members on the Iranian team wore green tape on their wrists in a World Cup qualifier against South Korea in Seoul. Some newspapers said the players are retiring voluntarily, reportedly because of their age, but at least one suggested they were forced out. It was not possible to confirm the reports independently and calls to Iranian soccer officials were not immediately answered. The speculation focused on two players who both wore green in Seoul: Ali Karimi, 31, and Mehdi Mahdavikia, 32. However, both had earlier announced plans to quit soon because of their age. The Seoul incident was a gesture of solidarity with opposition leader Mir Hossain Mousavi whose supporters accuse the government of rigging Iran's June 12 election in favor of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Green was adopted as the color of Mousavi's campaign and has been widely displayed in opposition street protests in Iran's post-election turmoil. At least seven Iranian players wore the bands in the first half against South Korea, although most were forced to take them off before the second. Mahdavikia is one of Iran's biggest sports heroes for a goal he scored to eliminate the United States during the first round of the World Cup in 1998. Karimi is also a soccer star who has played for Germany's Bayern Munich. Before and during the match against South Korea, Iranian soccer fans also showed their support for the demonstrations at home. They unfurled a banner that read "Go to Hell Dictator," and chanted "Compatriots, we will be with you to the end with the same heart." During the match, protesters waved the banner, held up green paper signs reading "Where is my vote?" and waved Iran's national flags emblazed with the plea "Free Iran." The game in Seoul ended in a 1-1 draw, and Iran was later eliminated from World Cup qualifying because of a draw between Saudi Arabia and North Korea.