Last June, Mohsen Forouzan, a goalkeeper formerly with Tehran’s Esteghlal Football Club, posted a photo on Instagram to announce his engagement to Iranian model Nasim Nahali. The photo quickly triggered reactions since Nahali was unveiled and the timing of the post coincided with the holy month of Ramadan. The Young Journalists Club, which is affiliated with Iran’s state broadcaster, immediately described it as “a matter far [removed] from Sharia and ethics.”
Almost one year later, on May 23, the Iranian Football Federation’s Ethics Committee issued a ruling to suspend Forouzan from all official soccer activities for three months. The reason for the move was described as due to “materialistic measures adopted by his wife” that “had circulated in social media networks and later in public opinion, without observing Islamic principles and ethics and thus harming the credibility of football and the good reputation of the Football Federation among the public.”
But what were the “materialistic measures” taken by Forouzan’s wife? According to the media and Iran’s soccer community, the ruling referred to her “modeling activities.” Born in 1989, Nahali is a model for wedding dresses and various manteau, long coats commonly worn by Iranian women outside their homes. Like most Iranian models, Nahali often posted pictures of herself on Instagram. However, according to the Young Journalists Club, “Some of her pictures on social media did not observe the appropriate dress code [in Iran],” which is why her spouse was apparently suspended.
The suspension not only sparked objections on social media, but also prompted sports journalists, legal experts and the managers of several soccer clubs to voice criticism. In an Instagram post addressed to Mehdi Taj, the president of Iran’s Football Federation, former Persepolis Football Club and Bayern Munich player Ali Karimi wrote, “A few questions! Sir, do these rulings also include the football players’ families? Is it legal to communicate this ruling with a single signature? Thank God I have retired.”
Ali Aali, the editor of the popular Iranian monthly Donya-e Football (World of Football), told Al-Monitor that based on FIFA rules, the Iranian Football Federation’s Ethics Committee does not have the right to interfere in players’ personal lives. He also said that any control or monitoring of such matters can only be carried out through individual player contracts and by the relevant soccer clubs. Aali added, “This is not the first example of the federation interfering in matters outside its scope of responsibilities. These events show that Iranian football is being managed by people who have no knowledge of football. Such encounters are not acceptable in Iran’s football community, and legal experts view them as interference in the players’ private lives.”
Soon after Forouzan’s suspension, Nahali removed all her pictures from Instagram while Forouzan himself thanked the public and the media for their “support” and said in an interview, “I will object to this ruling considering that, fortunately, they have granted me the right to object.”
This led to media speculations about the possibility of Forouzan raising his objections with FIFA itself. Abdollah Samami, a member of the Iranian Football Federation’s Ethics Committee responded to these speculations in an interview with the Young Journalists Club, saying, “FIFA accepts Iran’s disciplinary committee as a decision-making body and I doubt this goalkeeper will get anywhere [with his objection].”
Meanwhile, Mizan News Agency, which is affiliated with Iran’s judiciary, interviewed Taj. During the interview, which took place soon after the ruling, Taj spoke of Forouzan’s suspension being lifted and that his file was being sent to the federation’s appeals committee, saying, “Another objection to Mohsen Forouzan’s ruling was that one cannot ban an individual because of someone else’s mistake. Our efforts are aimed at solving the problem and ending everything well.”
According to Aali, the lifting of the ban on Forouzan was the result of objections raised on social media. He told Al-Monitor, “In fact, the Ethics Committee is planning to review violations outside the football field, such as bribery, collusion, betting, etc. … The committee has not given priority to these issues … in recent years. For example, there are cases about collusion and bribery in Iranian football, the condition of football schools and also a report by parliament’s Article 90 commission about corruption in football that have not been pursued yet.” Aali added, “In [Iran’s] football, minor issues are prioritized over the main ones. However, the atmosphere in society no longer allows for meddling in players’ lives that easily. The criticisms [over the suspension of Forouzan] were also centered on this and [the question of] what the inappropriate clothing of a football player’s wife has to do with the player himself or his playing football.”
The domestication of FIFA’s Code of Ethics by Iran’s Football Federation has led to many soccer players being summoned to the Ethics Committee in past years. On June 8, 2016, Sosha Makani, a goalkeeper for Persepolis Football Club, was suspended from domestic competitions for six months for wearing “inappropriate clothing.” Six months later, in December 2016, Masoud Shojaei, who plays for Iran’s national soccer team and the Greek club Panionios, was called in for discussing corruption in Iranian soccer in an interview with a foreign media outlet. Mehdi Rahmati, the goalkeeper for Esteghlal, was also summoned the same month for taking a picture with a woman who was not wearing a headscarf during a team camp in Armenia.
Following news of Forouzan’s suspension, Mizan News Agency confirmed unofficial reports circulated in Iranian sports media about the suspension of 10 soccer players by the Ethics Committee, writing, “These suspensions are an indication that the Ethics Committee is pursuing and observing ethical issues in Iran’s football in an obvious manner.”
Although Mizan made no mention of the players’ names or the reasons behind their suspension, other media outlets claimed that the players all belonged to Iranian Premier League clubs and were facing suspensions ranging from three to six months. The reasons? Attending female hair salons, betting on gambling sites, going to evening parties, engaging in “noncustomary relations and actions” or facing private complaints.
At present, the Iranian Football Federation’s Ethics Committee is headed by Judge Morteza Turak, a former administrator of the court in Evin Prison. Turak was also present at the trials of notorious businessmen Mahafarid Amir Khosravi and Babak Zanjani, the focus of two of Iran’s biggest corruption cases in recent years. In the case of Amir Khosravi, Turak was in charge of implementing the prosecutor general’s ruling, which was execution. For the Zanjani trial, he provided an evaluation of the businessman’s assets in his capacity as deputy chief of justice of Tehran.
In an interview with the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency in March 2016, Turak discussed whether soccer players should be penalized for having tattoos or their hair styled in certain ways. She said, “Some topics may not fit within the framework and principles of FIFA, but they fit within our Sharia principles. In these cases, our Sharia principles will govern the rules. This is what domestication means, and FIFA has accepted the concept of domestication.”