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After Iran Bans Two Of Its Players, Could FIFA Ban Iran?

Iran is one of three clubs to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, but that could be in jeopardy. The country banned two of its starters for playing for the national team for life on Thursday after they played in a Europa League match against a team from Israel — a move that could draw the ire of FIFA.

Iran’s republic explicitly bans Iranian athletes from competing against any individual or team from Israel, which Iran does not recognize as a nation. Captain Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Haji Safi, midfielders for Greek side Panionios, played in the return leg (but not the first) against Maccabi Tel Aviv, which finished second in the Israeli Premier League last season.


FIFA has rules against nations mixing politics with football. Banning players — prominent ones at that — seems to be a clear violation. As of yet, FIFA has not commented on the ban. 

Could FIFA opt to keep Iran out of the World Cup for such an action? Soccer’s world governing body has the power.

In 1973, FIFA awarded Chile a spot in the 1974 World Cup over the Soviet Union after the latter refused to play a qualifier at Santiago’s National Stadium. The USSR would not play in the stadium because it had been used as a prison camp under Augusto Pinochet. 

In 2010, Nigeria’s delightfully named president Goodluck Jonathan announced he would pull his country’s team out of competition for two years as punishment for the Super Eagles’ poor performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Though Jonathan backed down under threat of sanctions, FIFA eventually gave Nigeria a short suspension. The Nigerian federation was suspended again in 2014 when the minister of sports was ordered by a court to appoint a civil servant to run the federation.

FIFA ruled Bosnia’s rotating system for its federation’s president was unacceptable and suspended the federation in 2011. The Bosnian Federation apparently thought it would be OK to rotate between a Serb, Croat and ethnic Muslim president instead of a merit-based hire. 

Iran’s once-promising World Cup (it would be its fifth ever), now looks in doubt. Even if FIFA doesn’t punish the national team, losing two starters for fulfilling their contractual obligations to play for their club will have a detrimental effect on the team’s chances. 

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