Two Iranian national team players, including the team's captain, have been banned from playing for their country for life after they participated with their club team in a game against an Israeli opponent, according to an Iranian government official speaking to The New York Times.
The national team's captain, 33-year-old Masoud Shojae, and Ehsan Haji Safi, a 27-year-old who is one of the country's best players, suited up on Aug. 3 with their Greek club team Panionios in the side's 1-0 loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv in a Europa League Qualifying match. That violates a long-standing Iranian policy to ban its athletes from representing the nation if they participate against an opponent of team of Israeli origin.
“It is certain that Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi will never be invited to join the national football team because they violated the red line,” said Mohammad Reza Davarzani, Iran’s deputy sports minister to the Times.
Iran does not recognize the state of Israel and has a long-standing antagonistic relationship with the nation. Iran has called for the destruction of Israel on multiple occasions, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that Israel "will be here long after (Iran)'s theocratic tyranny is just a footnote of history."
According to the New York Times report, Iranian parliament denounced the players in a special session before the ban was enacted.
“Agreeing to play in a game against athletes of a regime that has given humanity nothing other than occupation, murder, aggression and betrayal is disrespectful of the rights of thousands of martyrs and those displaced and affected by the occupying Zionist regime,” the spokesman for the committee, Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini, told Iranian media.
Iran is one of three nations—along with hosts Russia and Brazil—to have already qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Both players would be strong candidates to make the final 23-man roster for the tournament, and it will be interesting to see if the ban is lifted before the tournament.