IRAN: Two opposition-supporting soccer players said to be resigning
The Associated Press has this report from Cairo on the apparent departure from the Iranian national soccer team of two players who were among a group who wore green tape on their wrists last week during a match in Seoul (green is the color of Iranian opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi):
Several Tehran 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 postelection 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.
Iran was later eliminated from World Cup qualifying because of a draw between Saudi Arabia and North Korea.
Photo: Iran's national soccer team poses June 17 during the match in Seoul. Credit: Min Kyung-hoon / Associated Press