Iranian soccer player Mehdi Mahdavikia sparked controversy in Iranian media after he played in a showcase match with an Israeli coach at the FIFA Arab Cup.
The showcase match at the FIFA Arab Cup starred former soccer players from Arab countries and around the world. The team of world legends was coached by Israeli Avram Grant. Three Algerian soccer players withdrew from the match and a number of Arab players erased the Israeli flags from their shirts in protest against Grant’s involvement.
Iran has a general policy of not allowing athletes to compete against Israeli competitors. The policy has sparked pressure by Israel and its supporters to ban Iran from competing in a variety of sports unless it allows its athletes to play against Israeli athletes.
The Kayhan newspaper, associated with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, attacked the soccer player for playing in a match “unrelated to Iran, dressed in the flag of the Zionist regime and against a team coached by a Zionist.” The newspaper expressed outrage that Mahdavikia had not issued a statement to “openly express his hatred” of Israel and demanded that he do so.