Iran player breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

TEHRAN — 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 Haji 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.

Players from Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer team great their counterparts from Greece's Panionios ahead of their soccer match in Greece on August 3, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)

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 Haji 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.

Queiroz delays announcing squad

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.

Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz of the Iranian national football team celebrates with players after winning the 2018 World Cup qualifying football match between Iran and Uzbekistan at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on June 12, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE)

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 reelected 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 place in Russia in 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.


Iran removes soccer players for competing against an Israeli team

(JTA) — Iran reportedly has removed two players from its national soccer team after they competed against an Israeli team.

Haji Safi and Masoud Shojaei play for the Greek soccer club Panionios, which last week competed against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team in a Europa League qualifying round in Greece. The Greek team lost.

“Shojaei and Haji Safi have no place in Iran’s national football team any more because they crossed the country’s red line,” Deputy Sports Minister Mohammad Reza Davarzani said on state television, according to the French news agency AFP.

Davarzani acknowledged that in the previous round, the players had declined to travel with their team to play in Israel despite receiving “pressure.”

“Well done to Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi who broke the taboo of not playing in matches against Israeli athletes,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry wrote on its Farsi language Twitter account, according to reports.

Italian judge: Soccer chants about Jews not hate speech

ROME (JTA) – An Italian judge ruled that soccer fans chanting a slogan featuring the word “Jews” was not hate speech, sparking an angry response from the Jewish community.

In a letter to Italy’s justice minister, Andrea Orlando, the president of the Rome Jewish community, Ruth Dureghello called the ruling earlier this month “undoubtedly an alarming precedent for justice” in Italy that “in essence legitimizes the use of the adjective Jew in a derogatory and racist form and in any case a tool of derision during sporting events.”

Orlando was quoted by the news media as saying he would look into the matter.

The president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, Noemi Di Segni, issued a separate protest to soccer authorities.

The case dates back to March 2013, when two fans of the Lazio soccer team were caught on camera during a match between Lazio and Catania chanting “giallorosso ebreo,” Italian for “yellow-red Jew” — apparently directed against the Catania team. The chant refers to Lazio’s archrival, Roma, whose team colors are yellow and red.

In his ruling, Judge Ezio Damizia acquitted the pair of incitement and racial hatred, saying the term “giallorosso ebreo” was aimed simply at “ridiculing the opposing team” and fell within the scope of the long “sporting rivalry” between Lazio and Roma.

Militant Lazio fans are notorious for anti-Semitic and racist behavior. Just weeks before the March 2013 chanting incident, European soccer authorities sanctioned Lazio for earlier anti-Semitic behavior by fans with a suspended one-game stadium ban.

Dutch public broadcaster apologizes for poor coverage of soccer anti-Semitism

AMSTERDAM (JTA) — The Dutch main public broadcaster apologized to supporters of a local soccer team for omitting context from reports on the singing of anti-Semitic chants by some fans of the team.

The unusual apology earlier this month by NOS was over its coverage of the Jan. 14 match game in Utrecht between the FC Utrecht team and the Ajax club from Amsterdam that included chants of “The Jews are going to the slaughter” and “whoever doesn’t jump is a Jew.”

In reporting about the chants by Utrecht fans, the broadcasters failed to mention that fans from other teams often chant similarly – some claim the chants are not anti-Semitic, NOS spokeswoman Anja van Ginhoven told the Algemeen Dagblad daily following complaints.

“It was selective outrage on our part, a blunder,” she said.

Anti-Jewish chants are common in the Netherlands in matches involving Ajax, which is associated with Jews because of the Dutch capital’s rich Jewish heritage. Some Ajax fans self-identify as Jews and wave Israeli flags, though the team’s bosses discourage such behavior. Fans of rival teams, in turn, adopt anti-Jewish slogans and chants – including about gas chambers and SS murdering Jews – to taunt them.

“We didn’t handle it well,” van Ginhoven said about the NOS coverage of the Jan. 14 match. “We exaggerated and we failed to set it in context. We should not have cut that text and presented it verbatim. If you cover this topic, you have to say that Utrecht supporters used the same chants that Ajax fans proudly use.”

Ajax fans, including ones who self-identify as “Jews,” do not chant about killing Jews.

Other European teams associated with Jews include London’s Tottenham Hotspur. Last week, a video of Manchester City fans headed to their team’s match with Tottenham showed them singing anti-Semitic chants – including “you’re getting gassed in the morning” – on a stadium-bound tram.

The apology by NOS, which pro-Israel activists often accuse of anti-Israel bias and journalistic omissions of context in reporting about the Jewish state, is unusual.

In 2015, NOS defended its editing of a 52-second video depicting an Arab woman being shot by Israeli troops after brandishing a knife at a soldier. NOS trimmed the video to 13 seconds, dispensing with footage that showed the knife. The full video also showed the woman alive despite being shot, whereas the NOS clip ended beforehand. NOS did not indicate its clip was edited.

Amid complaints, Marcel Gelauff, the chief editor at NOS News, defended his network’s coverage of the incident, telling JTA that it was not aiming to provide “a clear and detailed picture” of what transpired, but rather “an impression of a few events.”

On Jan. 20, Christians for Israel, a Zionist international group based in the Netherlands, wrote an open letter to the management of Utrecht FC urging “greater sensitivity” in light of “the bloody history” of Jews in the Netherlands.

“You needn’t explain these chants are not intended as personal insults. We get it,” wrote the organization’s director, Roger van Oordt, and its chairman, Dick Schutte.

29 dead, 166 hurt in bombings outside Istanbul soccer arena (VERY VERY GOOD!!!!)


Twenty-nine people were killed, mainly police officers, and 166 wounded in double bombings that struck Istanbul Saturday after a home soccer match hosted by top side Besiktas, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said.

Twenty-seven of those killed were police and two were civilians, he told reporters in Istanbul, adding that 10 suspects had already been detained over the bombing.

The first attack is believed to be caused by a car bomb detonated outside the football stadium on the shores of the Bosphorus while a suicide attacker struck a nearby park.

Earlier, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there were several fatal casualties in the twin bomb attacks.

“Unfortunately we have martyrs and wounded” as a result of the twin blasts, Erdogan said in a statement.

A Turkish emergency worker stand in front of a damaged bus on the site where a car bomb exploded near the stadium of football club Besiktas in central Istanbul on December 10, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / OZAN KOSE)

“An act of terror targeted our security forces and citizens at Besiktas tonight,” Erdogan said. Besiktas is also the name of the neighborhood around the club’s arena.

Erdogan said the blasts shortly after the end of the match sought to cause maximum loss of life.

“We have witnessed once more here in Istanbul the ugly face of terror which tramples down any form of value and morals,” he said.

Erdogan said that “the name or the method of the terrorist organization which perpetrated the vile attack” did not matter. “Nobody should doubt that we will defeat terror, terror groups, terrorists and of course the forces behind them, with God’s help,” he said.

The fatal blast struck the area outside the Besiktas soccer team’s stadium after a match against the Bursaspor club, targeting a bus packed with police officers, Soylu said earlier on Saturday.

The two explosions hit the stadium area after fans had gone home.

“Two bombings may have taken place according to our understanding: one outside the stadium… the other at Macka Park,” Soylu told reporters in Istanbul. “The explosion at Macka Park is believed to have been carried out by a suicide bomber.”

“The (stadium) attack targeted the riot police’s bus,” the minister said.

Police cordoned off the area as smoke rose from behind the newly built Vodafone Arena Stadium. Witnesses also heard gunfire after the explosions.

State broadcaster TRT World showed images of the wreckage of a car, engulfed in flames with emergency services swarming around the scene outside the sports venue.

The scene of an explosion of a booby-trapped car near Besiktas Stadium in Turkey on Saturday, December 10 2016. (Screen capture YouTube)

Other footage showed severely damaged police vehicles, while witnesses said the force of the blast had shattered the windows of several nearby homes.

An AFP correspondent near the stadium saw ambulances gathering in the aftermath of the explosion, as well as broken glass on the road.

“I heard two explosions in less than one minute, followed by sound of gunshots,” one witness told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Bursaspor football club said none of its fans had been injured, privately-owned NTV television reported.

Eitan Na’eh, Israel’s newly reinstated ambassador to Turkey, condemned what he described as a “hideous attack” and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said that there were no Israeli casualties in the bombing. Turkey is a popular destination for Israeli tourists; three Israelis were killed in a suicide bombing in Istanbul in March.

Egypt soccer official kicks Israel friendly invite to the curb

A senior Egyptian soccer official has ruled out the possibility of Egypt’s national team playing a friendly match in Israel.

Army Radio reported on Friday that Ehab Leheta, a board member of the Egypt Football Association, shot down an invitation from Israel’s ambassador to Cairo, Haim Koren.

In an interview with Egyptian media on Thursday, Koren said that Egypt’s national squad was welcome to play a friendly match against the Israeli team in Israel.

Once Israel’s largest and fiercest enemy, Egypt signed a peace treaty with Jerusalem in 1979, formally ending their state of war. Nonetheless, normalized relations with Israel is frowned upon in Egypt.

“That won’t happen, even if heaven falls on the earth,” the Egyptian official is quoted as saying by Army Radio.

Leheta’s remarks stand in stark contrast to a comment made last month by another Egyptian soccer official who said there was nothing preventing a friendly competition between the two national teams.

Koren’s tenure as ambassador to Cairo has been an eventful one, particularly in the past few days.

The Egyptian lawmaker who was removed from parliament for warmly meeting the Israeli ambassador has apologized for his actions.

An Egyptian television station aired footage of Tawfiq Okasha pleading with parliament officials to allow him to enter the plenum in Cairo just days after he was stripped of his status due to his publicized get-together with Koren.

Following his meeting with Koren, Okasha was ousted from his position on Wednesday, in a decision made by two thirds of Egyptian lawmakers.

Okasha was removed from office on the grounds that his meeting with Koren damaged relations with neighboring nations and that it infringed upon the established parliamentary policy which opposes normalization of relations with Israel.

The vote came three days after Okasha was accosted in parliament when another lawmaker hurled a shoe at him and demanded he be suspended from parliament for his misconduct.

Okasha sparked controversy in Egypt when he extended an invitation to Koren during his TV show “Egypt Today.” He announced in the broadcast: “I have personally invited the Israeli ambassador to Cairo, Haim Koren, to a dinner at my house next week to discuss the Nile dispute and other important issues.”

Among the reasons for removing Okasha from parliament were that he “had lost the trust of the Egyptians and especially the trust of his voters and that his act showed disrespect for the blood of Egyptian and Arab martyrs.”

Okasha tried to get into the session to apologize to colleagues before it was too late but was barred by security on the orders of the speaker.

Nazi gestures get Southampton fans 3-year ban from Premier League matches

(JTA) — Two fans of the Southampton soccer club have been banned from attending English Premier League games for three years for making “fascist salutes” and “racist gestures” at Jewish fans during a recent match.

Thomas Flynn, 22, and Michael Haydon, 23, pleaded guilty to using threatening, abusive and insulting behavior in a religiously-aggravated public order offense, the Daily Mail Online reported. The men were charged for their behavior at a Dec. 19 Premier League match between Southampton and the the Tottenham Hotspur.

Haydon, who had been drinking since morning, and Flynn also reportedly made hissing sounds meant to resemble the sounds of Nazi gas chambers.

“There was a white male raising his right hand and finger below his nose and making hissing sounds imitating gas escaping,” prosecutor Charles Nightingale said a Jewish Hotspur fan reported, according to the Daily Mail Online.

The two Jewish fans who reported the incident — one of whom said he had lost relatives in the Holocaust — also reported hearing chants of “gas the Jews.” Tottenham has traditionally had a large Jewish fanbase.

Haydon’s lawyer said her client admitted to making the hissing sounds but not to the verbal abuse.

“This is very out of character and a blip,” the lawyer, Jane Hiatt, said of Haydon. “He’s horrified and ashamed.”

Judge Victoria Parker banned the two Southampton supporters from attending soccer matches in Britain or going near St Mary’s Stadium around match times. She also ordered them to show passports to police before attending games abroad and gave them fines and a curfew.

Italian soccer chief: ‘Nothing against’ Jews and gays, just keep them away from me

(JTA) — The president of the Italian Football Federation said he has “nothing against” Jews and gays, but that he prefers to keep such people at a distance.

The comments by Carlo Tavecchio were recorded for an interview with the online magazine Soccer Life and published on the website of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Tavecchio made the remarks while talking about a Jewish-Italian businessman Cesere Anticoli.

“It was bought by that Jew, Anticoli,” Tavecchio said in the recording. “I have nothing against the Jews, but better to keep them at bay.”

He used the Italian term “ebreaccio,” a pejorative for “ebreo,” or Jew.

He also said: “I don’t have anything against gays – but keep them away from me.”

Tavecchio said in response to the publication of the recording: “It’s blackmail; retaliation from someone to whom I denied funding, who recorded me without my knowledge, not as part of an interview. What’s more, the audio file could have been tampered with.

He added: “If you listen to the recording, my words are clear: I have had long personal and professional relationships with Jews. The charges of homophobia are also groundless.”

Tavecchio was elected president of the Italian Football Federation in August 2014. He has made racist comments in the past.

Football fans wave banner saying ‘Refugees not welcome’

Football clubs and fans around the world have been generally supportive around the refugee crisis, from the support across football teams in Germany for refugees to Arsenal’s ‘refugees welcome’ banner.

Fans in Israel, however, have not been so accommodating. Maccabi Tel Aviv fans held up a banner at the start of a match against Kiryat Shmona, saying ‘Refugees Not Welcome’.

However, other football fans in the country have been more supportive. Hapoel Tel Aviv fans held up a banner held up a banner asking ‘Who isn’t a migrant here?!’ in Hebrew, meaning that many people who now live in Israel came from refugee families, and referring to Israel’s history of accepting refugees from across the world.

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said that Israel will not be accepting any refugees from the Syrian war, but that the country will be providing medical help to those injured in the war via a field hospital at the border.

David Cameron announced that the UK will be accepting 20,000 refugees over the next five years, and has just been videoed visting a refugee camp in Lebanon.

Arsenal football club recently became the first to donate £1 from every ticket sold to the refugee crisis, and fans have seemed enthusiastic about helping.

Maccabi Tel Aviv will be playing Chelsea on Wednesday night.

Soccer match in Germany ends in brawl amid anti-Semitic insults

BERLIN – An amateur soccer match in Berlin descended into a mass brawl that left two people injured after fans and players from both teams exchanged anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim insults, German police said on Monday.

A police spokesman said the trouble started when a fan of TuS Makkabi, a Berlin-based Jewish club, insulted a player from the rival team BFC Meteor during Sunday’s match.

The dispute ended in a tussle involving more than 20 people, forcing the referee to cancel the match.

“According to witnesses, there were insults from both sides, so there were anti-Semitic as well as anti-Muslim insults,” the spokesman said.

Police have started preliminary proceedings against four men involved in the brawl for insult, bodily harm and civil disorder.

Spokespeople from TuS Makkabi and BFC Meteor could not immediately be reached for comment.

Germany is home to the world’s fast-growing Jewish population and only last month Berlin proudly hosted the 14th European Maccabi Games, or “Jewish Olympics” — an important feat for the country responsible for the Holocaust in which six million Jews were killed during World War Two.

However, Jewish groups report a rise in attacks against Jews in Berlin and other German cities, often involving young men with Turkish and Arabic roots. BFC Meteor is based in the Berlin district of Wedding, which has a large population of ethnic Turkish and Arab origin.

Germany’s Jewish population today numbers about 250,000, roughly half of its prewar peak but well above the roughly 30,000 Jews remaining at the end of World War Two.