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Iran Bans Soccer Players For Competing Against Israelis

(JTA) — Two players on Iran’s national soccer team were banned for life from playing for their country for participating in a match against Israelis.

The players, Masoud Shojaei, 33, the captain of the national team, and Ehsan Haji Safi, 27, one of Iran’s most promising players, were banned Thursday for playing for their Greek club team, Panionios, in a home game last week in Athens against Maccabi Tel Aviv from Israel, the New York Times reported.

“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,” Mohammad Reza Davarzani, Iran’s deputy sports minister said Thursday on Iranian state television.

The Iranian government does not recognize the state of Israel, and has no official ties with the country, which Iranian officials repeatedly have vowed to destroy. A longstanding rule by the country’s Islamic government prohibits Iranian athletes from competing against Israeli athletes in any contest or tournament, including the Olympics.

Critics in Iran say the ban on competing against Israel has hurt the development of Iranian athletes, forcing them to forfeit or pull out of competitions in which they might face Israeli athletes. But hard-liners in the republic insist that ideology trumps sports.

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