Iran: Sanctions cause damage to Iranian sports


Nearly a month after then-US President Donald Trump withdrew his country from the landmark nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018, the world’s largest shoe company, Nike, also severed its ties with the Iranian soccer team.

The company, headquartered in the US, said at the time that the sanctions meant it could not provide cleats to players of the Iran national football team, which arrived in Russia just days before the team’s participation in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

While the company insisted the decision was unrelated to politics, it did provide cleats to 60 percent of all players in the 32-team World Cup.

Like any other sector, sport in Iran has also been affected, directly or indirectly, by the heat of US sanctions, which undermine the functioning of local sports federations, affect the performance of players and, in some cases, the careers of young and destroy promising athletes.

Hatam Shiralizadeh, a prominent Iranian sports journalist and commentator, said the bogey of sanctions, which began shortly after the 1979 revolution, has “severely affected” international sports in Iran for the past 43 years, “particularly in the last decade”.

“A cursory look at how sanctions have affected Iranian sport – we can’t buy sports equipment, we can’t register for international sporting events and international sponsors remain reluctant to partner with Iranian sports,” he said. Anadolu Agency.

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Shiralizadeh hastened to add that the US, Canada and some European countries have often “created hurdles” by not issuing visas to Iranian athletes and officials, and that national sports organizations have encountered difficulties paying salaries to foreign players and officials. coaches.

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Fittingly, Iranian football in 2020 faced what many called the “biggest scandal”, sparked by a controversy over the non-payment of dues to a former Belgium national team coach, Mark Wilmots.

Following Wilmots’ formal complaint to FIFA, the governing body of world football, Iranian judicial authorities intervened to resolve the crisis, much to the chagrin of fans.

Sanctions and sports

Iran has succumbed to US sanctions since the severance of diplomatic relations between the two countries in the wake of the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979, nine months after the revolution.

While the impact of US sanctions on Iran’s economy in general has been widely documented, the overarching impact on sports in particular is often overlooked.

Erfan Hoseiny, a young sports enthusiast and writer who mainly covers Iranian and Asian football, agrees that sanctions have had an impact on Iranian sport, “particularly football”.

“Iranian clubs participating in international competitions (AFC Champions League) cannot receive their prize money,” he said Anadolu Agencyadding that the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) owes Esteghlal FC and Persepolis FC, Iran’s two largest football clubs, “millions of dollars.”

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Hoseiny added that it “makes it difficult” for Iranian clubs to pay the wages of foreign players and managers.

In 2019, Andrea Stramaccioni, who previously coached top clubs such as Inter Milan, was forced to stop as head coach of Esteghlal FC due to non-payment of his salary. His two-year contract with the club was about €1.6 million ($1.62 million), which could not be paid due to banking restrictions.

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Masoud Hossein, a senior sports journalist with Tehran Timessaid sanctions is a “political term” implying that one should “be aware of the impact of political decisions on sport.”

He noted that Iranian teams and athletes have been “seriously harmed” as a result of sanctions in recent years, which has had “a huge impact” on the country’s economy, especially the sports sector.

“Many athletes have not been able to purchase sports equipment due to sanctions, nor have they organized training camps abroad,” Hossein said. Anadolu Agency.

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Kat Khosrowyar, the former head coach of Iran’s U-19 women’s soccer team, said sanctions have affected Iranian sport by “preventing international sponsors from making deals with teams and athletes”, as well as “prohibiting major European clubs from participating in projects for youth academies in Iran.”

The national federation has struggled to pay salaries to foreign coaches because they have foreign bank accounts, causing legal complications, Khosrowyar said. Anadolu Agency.

“As far as Iranian athletes are concerned, getting a UK/US visa is a struggle. Even European players who have traveled and played in Iran do not get a visa and have to do an interview before entering the US.”

Refusal of visas to athletes

In recent months, many Iranian athletes have been refused visas to participate in international competitions, mainly in the US and UK.

The Iranian wrestling team was scheduled to face the US wrestling team in Arlington, Texas, on February 12, but the tour was canceled after six members of the delegation, including head coach Alireza Dabir, were denied visas.

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Likewise, Iran’s national track and field athletes were scheduled to compete in the World Championships in Oregon, USA, in July, but their visas were denied at the last minute. It came days after the Iranian karate team faced a similar rejection by the US.

Britain also delayed and eventually refused the visa of Mashkat Zahra Safi, an 18-year-old Iranian tennis sensation, earlier this month.

“In my opinion, politics should be kept out of sport. We should separate the two. Political issues between governments have nothing to do with athletes,” said Hossein, who has been reporting on Iranian sport for years.

“The United States is simply ‘abusing’ the power of sanctions to disqualify its enemy from global competitions,” Hoseiny noted, adding that it is the athletes, not the governments, that ultimately lose.

Mark Lomas, TBEN Sports editor and long-time observer of Iranian sports, noted that “despite the efforts of governing bodies such as FIFA and the IOC”, sports and politics are “tightly intertwined”.

“Sport is a great unifying factor, but also a great divider – and politicians have become adept at using it to both persuade and provoke,” he said. Anadolu Agency.

“Unfortunately, those who sit in the middle are often athletes whose main desire is to compete and who often – like so many citizens of the world – are actually quite apathetic towards their political leaders.”

(Source: Anadolu News Agency)

The views expressed in this article are the property of the author and do not necessarily reflect Middle East Monitor’s editorial policy.