World Cups always end in drama and excitement of some sort. For accomplished Iranian international referee Alireza Faghani, it ended with a scandal over a handshake. Yes, a simple handshake. Shaking the hand of female person a man is not married to, or who is not an immediate member of his family, can be regarded as “disgracing public morality” under Iran’s Islamic law. (When I was sixteen I was imprisoned for three days for having coffee with my girlfriend in a local café.) So, when photographs emerged of Faghani shaking hands with a female colleague during a match, Iranian hardliners demanded an explanation. His comments since have shown his frustration and a restrained anger. He’s even said he’d be willing to leave his country if the harassment continues.
Speaking of football, FIFA gives cash rewards to all the national teams that make it to the World Cup. So this is the second time in a row Iran will receive such financial incentives. But there’s a problem: A significant portion of the amount FIFA awarded to Iran back in 2014 seems to have disappeared. It would appear that the corruption that has mired Iran’s football federation for years continues to take its toll. This week, we ask: where has the money gone, and what does businessman Houshang Moghaddas, a close contact of Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz, have to do with it?
This week we also published an interview with Azita Sahebjam, who launched Vancouver Pars National Ballet after being banned from dancing and teaching not long after the 1979 revolution. She describes what a shock it was when she discovered that dance and other arts would not play a part in the new Iran that was ushered in with the downfall of the shah. And the absurdity still hits her today: The recent arrest and forced confessions of three girls who posted videos of themselves dancing on Instagram is evidence of that.
The decades-long battle over the Caspian Sea may be entering a new stage, with a summit between Iran, Russia and the three other countries bordering the huge inland body of water potentially taking place later this year. But now that the United States has backed out of the nuclear deal, Iran needs the support of Russia more than ever, and Russian president Vladimir Putin is well positioned to exploit the situation. Given this, it could be that Iran will be pressured to bow to deals that jeopardize its sovereignty and best interests, and that won’t be popular with most Iranian politicians or the general public.
IranWire launched its new series on human trafficking this week. The first article looks at how Iran deals with this growing international crisis, and how traffickers favor Iran as a useful route — not least because its borders, especially those with Afghanistan and Pakistan, can be easily compromised because of challenging terrain and volatile situations. In fact, the US State Department has singled out Iran, along with the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan and South Sudan, as being particularly ineffective at tackling trafficking. And with economic resources increasingly hard to come by, especially with re-imposed sanctions on the way, the situation looks set to get worse.