Skip to main content

Controversy erupts as soccer, religion clash in Iran

A prominent cleric is calling for the cancellation of a World Cup qualifier between Iran and South Korea because the match falls on a Shiite day of mourning.
Iran's fans cheer for their team before the international soccer friendly match between Iran and Sweden at Friends Arena in Stockholm March 31, 2015. REUTERS/Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency
ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. SWEDEN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SWEDEN. NO COMMERCIAL SALES. - RTR4VN0A

Heated debate has erupted in Iran over the confluence of Tasua, one of the most significant holy days in the Shiite calendar, and the Oct. 11 Iran-South Korea football qualifier for the 2018 World Cup. 

Tasua and Ashura, the ninth and 10th days of the month of Moharram, are days of national mourning to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad.

Jamejam Online reported Oct. 2 that Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi has harshly criticized Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Mahmoud Goudarzi for not rescheduling or canceling the match, which is scheduled for Tehran’s Azadi Stadium. Yazdi — the president of the Society of Seminary Teachers in the holy city of Qom and until last May head of the Assembly of Experts — has openly criticized President Hassan Rouhani and his ministers on numerous occasions for their cultural policies.

On Oct. 4, Jamejam Online published an open letter penned by Ali Motahari — the outspoken deputy speaker of parliament — and addressed to Yazdi. In the letter, Motahari called Yazdi’s stance on the match “indigestible.”

Insinuating that Yazdi was being oversensitive about the event, Motahari asked, “Imagine that Iran scored against South Korea and some people cheered. Does that mean that the people are cheering the martyrdom of Imam Hussein?” Motahari added, “If someone after years meets his mother, father or child on the eve of Ashura, should he then not be happy and smiling to avoid violating the sanctity of the imam?”

Motahari, the son of the highly respected late Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, continued in a frank tone, “The duty of the clergy and the righteous is to fight against the weak points of the society and the superstitious customs that have chained people’s hands and feet — and not to ride with that current.”

Motahari, known for his outspokenness and for having no qualms about controversy, ended his letter by contending that Yazdi’s approach might ultimately serve to push people away from religion. “This is remindful of the activities of the Catholic Church in the medieval times that resulted in the Europeans’ escape from religion.”

Asr-e Iran on Oct. 3 cited a South Korean news outlet as reporting, “Iran’s soccer federation has requested that Korean fans respect certain issues on the day of the match.” The alleged request, reported to have been submitted via the Iranian Embassy in Seoul, involved asking Korean fans not to bring items that they typically might use in celebrating, such as balloons. Moreover, South Korean soccer players, who usually wear red shirts at national games, were supposedly asked to wear dark shirts because of Tasua.

Although circulated on numerous Iranian websites, this news of a request appears to be dubious and has not been officially confirmed by Iranian authorities. In addition, the Reformist Shargh Daily reported on Oct. 4 that the qualifier, which was scheduled almost four years ago, will after much debate and meetings among sports representatives and government and security officials take place as planned on Oct. 11. 

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Free

The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.

Free

What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing
Expert

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to pro.support@al-monitor.com and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial