Have international sanctions affected Iran’s World Cup?

Sanctions and embargoes aren’t just buzzwords that affect Barcelona’s player transfers and Paris St Germain’s infringements on the Financial Fair Play rules. Laura Jones looks at whether Iran has suffered more than most in their preparations for the World Cup.

What if sanctions and embargoes were in place because your country is deemed to be a threat to the security of other countries?

This is the current situation in Iran.

Iran has extensive financial and trade sanctions in place against it, imposed by the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) and enforced by governments across the globe. These embargoes are designed to penalise the Iranian government for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment programme.

The reasoning behind the sanctions is to cut off any trade or funding that could be use to acquire materials for the continuation of the country’s nuclear programme. The impact is having a bearing on the entire Iranian population where poverty is on the increase and businesses are failing because they are also prohibited by the trade sanctions.

Iran reached the 2014 World Cup with a 1-0 win over South Korea - this will be just their fourth World Cup

However, there is a dispute about whether the national football team is suffering the same fate, or if the lack of preparation for the World Cup is a product of incompetence by the Iran Football Federation (FFI).

As oil companies are finding it difficult to import the necessary equipment to export its natural resource, Iran’s national team has been discovering that to be able to prepare adequately for the world’s biggest football stage they also need better kit.

Players have been allocated one tracksuit during the World Cup preparations. They have also been ordered by the FFI not to swap shirts with opposition players during the tournament.

According to the President of the FFI, Ali Kafaschian, they are “not giving the players a shirt for every game. The players need to be economical with the shirts.”

It will be interesting to see if the are any repercussions for the player who defies this command by swapping his shirt with Lionel Messi, when Iran play Argentina on the 21 June.

In 2011, Queiroz signed a deal to coach the Iran national football team until the end of the 2014 FIFA World Cup

The current Iran coach, Carlos Queiroz, has been publicly apoplectic about the quality of the training kit. Before the qualifying games against Qatar and South Korea the kit supplied to the team sounded like the remnants of the box at school when you’d forgotten your PE kit. Football boots were supplied but not in the correct sizes for the players and the socks allegedly shrunk during the humidity of the game. As the former Manchester United coach observed “this could have put Iran out of the World Cup.”

A bad workman blames his tools but when footballers are playing in shoes too large for them and socks that are shrinking on their feet as they play, you can’t help but feel a little embarrassed for the players.

The kit issues and the lack of quality opposition in the run up to the World Cup have been blamed on the UN sanctions. This has certainly been the view of Western media but Middle Eastern journalists are less convinced. Mani Djazmi, an Iranian-born BBC journalist, doesn’t believe the international sanctions are affecting the national team. He thinks the blame lies with “an incompetent FA.”

There are suggestions that the Iranian FA is overrun with officials that are focussing on everything but improving the team, yet claiming it is in the best interests of the squad. This is why Carlos Queiroz has been so vocal in his dismay, so much so that the FA has alleged that the Iran coach has been pocketing money from lucrative warm up games. An allegation he firmly denies. If Queiroz is right then being seen as an international pariah is helpful cover for an incompetent FA.

Djazmi highlights the domestic leagues, where it is more obvious that the financial restrictions are having an impact. Players have complained of not being paid for months and they have either left the country to play in Persian Gulf leagues or continued to play without pay.

Iran appeared at their first World Cup in 1978

Serbian footballer Goran Lovre claimed that his club Esteghlal were holding him hostage by keeping his passport and refusing to pay him. In a case reminiscent of French footballer, Zahir Belounis, trapped in Qatar. Lovre looked for sanctuary at the Serbian embassy but the matter was quickly resolved with a settlement and a release from his contract.

As we have seen in previous World Cups, football can be used as a tool of unity. There are mixed reports coming from Tehran about whether the government is using the Brazilian tournament as propaganda.

Former international footballer, Hassan Nayeb-Agha, who played in first Iran squad to qualify for the World Cup in 1978, believes the government are:

“Dealing with a totally disenchanted and disgruntled population, in particular among the young people, (they are) trying to use the World Cup as a tool.The regime’s objective is to pretend as though it is an advocate of sports, sportsmen and Iranian national team – and in the process they hope to appease the growing animosity Iranians and the youth in particular have for the regime.”

The police in Iran have allegedly tightened their grip on supporters enjoying the World Cup. Cafes in the capital Tehran have been banned from screening the games and mixed gender cinemas will not be allowed to show the games either. According to BBC journalist, Djazmi, Iranian’s don’t traditionally gather in numbers to watch games because large organised gatherings are prohibited. Most supporters watch the matches in their own homes. On that score everything seems to be business as usual. Not that the citizens of Iran will take comfort in this.

Djazmi leaves me with the thoughts of one of his friends.

“Iran can run out of petrol and people would grumble, but if Iran was banned from FIFA there would be blood on the streets.”

Maybe the Iran FA should have invested more in the national squad after all.

 

Source: Offside Rule

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