Ehsan HajSafy and Masoud Shojaei , the two Panionios players who faced Maccabi Tel Aviv F.C. have been chastised by extremist elements of the Basij for playing against what it called the enemy of the people! The two Iranian players who play professional football for the Greek Team, have been both involved in the match UEFA Europa League Third qualifying round, Game 2 played in Stadio Néas Smírnis on Thursday, August 3. The Israeli team won 1-0 away and advanced to the next stage of the UEFA Europa League while Panionios was eliminated from that European competition.
In a communique full of religious and zealous rhetoric from a group calling itself “Sazman Basij Varzeshkaran” virtually translated into “Organization of Mobilized Athletes” it accused Team Melli Captain Masoud Shojaei and ex-Sepahan left back Ehsan Haj Safy of betraying the Islamic cause by playing against the Israeli team. It is believed that this shadowy group belongs to the large and omnipresent paramilitary organization with multifaceted roles, which acts as the eyes and ears of the Islamic regime. It is present in schools, universities, state and private institutions, factories, and even among tribes. It is an extremist ideological organization which has very little popular support amongst the Iranians; however, it has considerable power because of its close working relations with the clergy and the ruling religious hierarchy.
The Basij , with its many arms , is the main oppressors of the Iranian youth both male but especially females. Their extremist views on religion and forcing hijabs and Islamic dress code on females have made them the people’s enemy number 1. Their anti-western values, is also not going down well in the younger Iranians communities and circles.
The Greek first division club Panionios, respected the Iranians wish not to travel to Israel for the away leg due to the political issues and allowed them both to stay at home. However, in Athens, it was a different story. There was no reason for the Iranians not to play in Greece and refusal to play would have been interpreted as demonstrating political opposition which is against the rules of UEFA and FIFA.
The two players are the only known athletes in post-revolution Iran who have indeed played against Israeli teams or competed against individual Israeli athletes.
It is not clear if the two players will face sanction by the FFIRI or any other government authority. Team Melli , already qualified for the FIFA World Cup, will be playing South Korea late this month. Both Shojaei and Haj Safy are important and fixed players of the squad. Sources close to the Football Federation in Tehran believe that the two players have consulted FFIRI before the match and quietly received the green light to play against Maccabi. This could not be confirmed officially.