On June 17, Iran’s soccer team took on South Korea in an important World Cup qualifying match in Seoul. SIx or seven members of Iran’s starting 11 wore green tape on their wrists as a show of support for opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. They were forced to remove the tape at half time.
Among these players were Iran’s best known stars — captain Medhi Mahdavikia, Ali Karimi, and Vahid Hashemian. All three have had highly successful careers in Germany, and Mahdavikia played for years at what I consider a world class level. In 1998, at the age of 21, he became a national hero by scoring the winning goal in the Asian powerhouse’s 2-1 victory over the U.S. at the World Cup.
The regime reportedly has “retired” at least four of the protesting players, including the three stars mentioned above. In addition, their passports have been taken away.
Sports stars aren’t known for sticking out their necks over politics. Perhaps the Iranian players didn’t realize the full extent of the risk they took in Seoul. Still, their action that evening tends to confirm that disgust with the regime is quite widespread, as opposed to being largely confined to students, professionals, and intellectuals.
In 1978, the captain and star of Iran’s World Cup team, Ali Parvin, made disparaging comments about the Shah. The revolution took place the following year.
I doubt that there will be a successful revolution in Iran next year; this regime is far more ruthless than the Shah proved to be (at least once America stopped backing him). But if the regime has lost the nation’s star footballers, perhaps the end is in sight.