Eyes Wide Shut: Iran Banishes "Pro-Opposition" Players

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Eyes Wide Shut: Iran Banishes
(Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)

The world of sports doesn't matter. Not at a time like this.

With the tumultuous and violent turmoil that has engulfed the country of Iran over the past couple weeks comes yet another pre-supposed shocker.

Those familiar with the present format shouldn't be surprised—not one bit. After all, a country that goes to as far lengths as to initiate and compound fear wouldn't think twice in giving walking papers to those who aren't on the "right side."

According to the U.K.'s "The Guardian" and a "pro-government newspaper" in Iran, four players who donned green wristbands in favor and support of the recent upheaval of the theoretically "rigged" or "stolen" June 12 election have been given the boot—or as they put it, "retired" from the sport of football.

Not Michael Jordan or Brett Favre retired, but retired as in Iran will not allow you to play for the country anymore.

No one really expected to the sporting world to inject its own sense of drama and disorder in what has been the most deadly protests in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

It has, and quite endemically.

The four players, Ali Karimi, Mehdi Mahdavakia, Hosein Ka'abi and Vahid Hashemian were told thanks, but no thanks. But by whom? The coach? The fellow players?

No. It was the government, the same slew of imbeciles that were thoroughly investigated by FIFA in 2006 for possibly "over-tampering" with the Iran Soccer Federation.

And here's the biggest problem to boot. President re-eclect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an avid football fan, so much so that he reportedly ordered the firing of former manager Ali Daei, the nation's most recognizable face after Team Melli was bested at home 2-1 by Saudi Arabia.

Not so surprising, is it?

But with Iran—needing a win against South Korea last week in Seoul to advance their dreams of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup—conceding an 80th minute wonder goal by Manchester United's Park-Ji Sung to tie 1-1, the hopes for another World Cup appearance in 2010 were dashed.

But the wristbands were out in full force, as was the team's demeanor. Most players were reportedly told to remove the bands at halftime—some did, some didn't. Most noticeably, Mahdavikia, the 32-year-old team captain who has played for some of the best teams in the German Bundesliga, said no.

Just like the thousands of protesting Iranians vying for a chance for something more, something better, the answer was no.

The same four players have been banned from addressing the media, and as of right now, their international passports have been held or "revoked."

What a way to try and make a difference. Pick a side, support it and give it all you have.

It works that way usually, but not in Iran.

These players backed Mir Hossein Moussavi, Ahmadinejad's rival in the elections, and were punished with the utmost criminality on the mind.

Therein lies the crux of the matter.

With all the brutal attacks, silenced voices and bloodied streets, it was another showing of what can happen when the opposition is voiced against. Not even football stars, some of the biggest celebrities in Iran, can make a decent stab at it.

And realize this, if the match had been in Iran, there wouldn't be a second's hesitation by the government to intervening or providing immense verbiage to those backing the wrong guy.

Flashback to 1968 in Mexico City. The Summer Olympiads were in full swing, and two Americans took home another gold and silver.

John Carlos and Tommie Smith decided to let the world know what was going on in the United States. They raised their fists to the air, calmly placed their head down and left their fists straight up in the air, signifying a salute to everything that was going wrong in their home country.

Sound familiar?

There were no fists raised in Seoul, nor were there any gold medals, just a football match. Thousands and thousands miles away from their homeland, a few players decided to make a statement. A risk. They knew that they had one shot to make a difference, to make a undefined problem noticeable to the world that was left in the dark.

They helped the cause. But the cause wouldn't save 19 Iranians from being killed. It wouldn't stop a bullet from entering Neda Soltani's chest.

What it did do is expose the world of sports and politics and how at times, they can run as paralell as any two straight-drawn lines.

That goes without saying Karimi, Mahdavikia and Hashemian are easily Iran's three most talented players on the team at the time being. The apparently " embarrassed" Iranian officials left no doubt—you play with fire, you get burned.

The two often juxtaposed worlds of sports and politics have met in the middle once again, and to the bewilderment of so many, the people with the ultimate power have won again.

The rioting and protesting will continue, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will tell the Iranians that they must abide by rules and deal with the consequences if the rulebook isn't followed. Ahmadinejad will continue on being the countries' pitbull, biting and nipping at the heels of those he's told to, but will not stop is resolve.

A selling point in sports. Resolve. If you have the necessary determination, you'll score that goal, catch that touchdown or hit that pitch. The people of Iran are currently sporting the utmost willpower and never-say-die attitude worldwide.

Just ask the players. They're most likely stuck in Iran, minus a passport and pissed off as the next person, because they had the audacity to stand up and say no on the world's biggest stage.

Looks like Iran's most unmistakables are following in suit of the people. What a transformed, yet imperative reversal.

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