Iran condemned two of its athletes for committing the crime of playing against (and losing to) Israelis.
Iran’s soccer federation condemned two Iranians who played for a Greek team on Friday for participating in a match against an Israeli team, Iranian media reported.
The federation “strongly condemns” the participation of Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi in a match for Greece’s Panionios against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv a day earlier in Greece, it said in a statement reported by the semi-official Fars news agency.
On its Farsi-language Twitter account, Israel’s foreign ministry praised the players for ignoring what is considered a taboo in Iran by playing against the Israelis. Maccabi won the UEFA Europa League match 1-0.
Israel and Iran are bitter adversaries and traditionally, Iranian athletes refrain from playing Israelis. Iran’s government usually rewards such behavior.
The federation said it is reviewing the case and will make a final decision after speaking with both players who in the past have also played for the national soccer team.
Fars reported that the two may now be banned from playing on that team again.
At a previous match against Maccabi in Tel Aviv, both refused to play.
The last competition between Iranian and Israeli sportsmen on the international level dates back to a wrestling match in 1983 in Kiev, Ukraine. From time to time, Iranian players who play for foreign teams have played Israeli teams.
In February, a teenage Iranian chess player angered authorities when he played, as an individual, against an Israeli competitor in the Tradewise Gibraltar Chess Festival.
Iran does not recognize Israel, and supports anti-Israeli terror groups like Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.