Shiva Amini was a well-known futsal player in Iran. But harassment forced her to leave her country and to apply for asylum in Switzerland. Her life there, over the past three years, has had ups and downs. But today she is a children's coach, and during the pandemic she took the initiative to start an online course of Technical and Psychological Training Plan for Children Players. In an interview with IranWire, Amini talks about this plan as well as the sweet and bittersweet moments of her exile.
The harassment experienced by the former Iranian futsal and football player Shiva Amini, one of the women's teams leading players, started with a painful memory when she was still just a teenager: "I was 14 years old when the talent scout coach came to Isfahan from Tehran to see me. Later I went to Saipa and became Miss Goal and 'the best technical player of the year' in Iranian futsal. Unfortunately, I was invited to the national team at that time."
In an interview with IranWire, Shiva Amini discusses her early footballing experiences in Iran: "The environment was bad, everything was bad. For example, let's go to the camps we had for the national team. The boys had one room for two people. But we [the women's team] were given a long shed that was filled with military-style double beds. We would fall off the beds at night. At the end of the hall, a separate room was prepared for the Ukrainian coaches. It was a misfortune if you needed to go to the bathroom or take a shower. We had to leave the shed in the middle of the night and enter a dark area. We walked around the national team camp building to reach the toilets or bathrooms that were underground. We were afraid, it was night, it was dark, it was a torment."
"They kept us there for eight months. They did not give us money or even the right food. When we returned home to rest, they did not pay for the bus ticket. When I went to Isfahan to see my family, I had to pay out of pockey for my bus ticket. I will never forget that dining hall. There was a section for the men's team and a section for the women. When we entered the hall, we felt we were dead and we were in hell and they were in heaven. The men had fresh fruit and all kinds of drinks. But we had to stand in a queue with a plate to get some dry rice and a minced lamb skewer. They also gave us a glass of water. ... We used to tell the authorities that we needed fruit after training. They told us to bring it from home and to put it in our cupboards."
Do not exercise, your bumps move
Such are the memoirs of an Iranian futsal player on the women's national team – a team that won the Asian Championship in 2015 and 2018. Not that their circumstances have improved. When we hear that the Football Federation has not paid the 22 million toman bonus for the Iranian womens' futsal championship after two years, we recall that the same federation paid $200,000 for the former head coach of the Iranian men's national football team, Carlos Queiroz, for winning third place in the Asian Cup, a placing that has no real meaning.
"Once there was a welcome for the players of the women's national futsal team. We were going to be sent to the Asian Games. After the lectures were over, I ... went to see Ali Kafashian [then president of Iran's Football Federation] and said to him: 'Mr. Kafashian! You pay so much for men's soccer and futsal teams. At least, give only a million tomans to each of the players of the women's national futsal team. What will happen?' Mr. Kafashian smiled with one of his famous smiles and said, in an insulting tone: 'Do you girls know how to spend a million tomans, since you're asking for it?'"
Shiva Amini added that, one day, everything ended for her in Iran: "In the Asian Games in Vietnam, after one of the matches, they gathered the team and said that one of the clerics from the Iranian embassy had come to Vietnam and wanted to give a speech to us. He began: 'The reason Islam and the clergy oppose women's sports is that, when you run, your bumps shake and men are aroused. That is why I didn't watch your game,' he said sarcastically. I gave everything up. The image that the cleric painted of us during the match and of our efforts was disgusting."
From the IRGC media attack to training at the first Swiss club
In November 2017, the news of Shiva Amini's emigration from Iran was published in the Iranian media. In a report, ISNA News Agency wrote: "Did Shiva Amini think about the consequences of her act? Did she think about her women colleagues? Women's sports in Iran are on an upward trend and are moving. Shiva Amini's actions may harm women's sports and would harm women in this land. But she is only looking after herself."
The Mizan News Agency, affiliated with Iran's judiciary, called Shiva Amini a "hotchpotch" and a "liar." The Football Federation, in a statement which was revealed later to be dictated by higher authorities and containing incorrect information, claimed that Amini had left football since 2010 "due to injury."
According to the same statement, the Tasnim news agency affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards described Shiva Amini as an "unknown player" who had become "the hero of second grade sports players."
Two other so-called "second grade" athletes who later left Iran are Kimia Alizadeh, the first female medalist in the history of Iran in the Olympics, and Saeed Molaei, the best judoka in the world according to the World Judo Federation.
Amini, in her interview with IranWire, said: "The attacks started when I heard that I was a refugee. They said I had applied for asylum in six countries, but all six countries refused. I was harassed in Switzerland, both by people who were connected to the Islamic Republic and also older Iranianse, from scams to sexual abuse attempts. I learnt the real meaning of loneliness [in Switzerland]. Here I realized how much energy I had to spend for each step I took. They wanted to bury me under these pressures, but I stood up and fought. They said that I removed the hijab in order to become a refugee. I did not care. They said I was a second-rate player and that I would be forgotten; I still did not care. As soon as my paperwork was completed, I started playing football. You do not know what it is like when a professional football player, who has no excess fat, loses 10 kilos due to stress and pressure. I lost 10 kilos of muscle. But I am back."
Amini joined the Swiss women's first team, FCZ, in Zurich. Her coach told her during first training sessions that she would be the best player on the team. But in Switzerland (and in Italy) there was an obstacle.:
"They said that ...that the Iranian Football Federation must allow my transfer and give me permission to play in Europe. Do you think the Iranian federation would give me such permission?"
I cried until morning after the trial
The common pain is not different for men and women. After the 1978 World Cup, Nasser Hejazi, a legendary Iranian footballer, was offered of 1.5 million tomans by the French club Paris Saint-Germain. But he was too slow to make the move – he missed his chance.
A few months after the Islamic Revolution, in 1979, Manchester United invited Hejazi to join the team. He went to Manchester and trained for a week; but soon, the club's managers told him that not only was the Iranian Football Federation not recognized after the Revolution by FIFA, football's international governing body, but that "even a letter from Iran to the board of directors of Manchester United" had been sent saying that Nasser Hejazi does not have the right to sign a contract with the British club Hejazi returned to Iran.
Shiva Amini, however, tried not to have regrets. So she first went to a refereeing class: "I want to tell the people of my country that what you read about Iranian athletes in the Iranian media is not true. Athletes who emigrate certainly disappear in the early years, because they have to go through the administrative process for their residence and have to learn the language. But those who return have tried to do with all their might. When I found out that Iran was not sending me my documents, I started training as a referee. I passed the first course and the Italian federation gave me a game. I was the referee at the game and then I went home and cried until morning. I could not accept that I was in the middle of the pitch and others were playing. It took me a few weeks to find myself. I talked to my lawyer and counselor. I was told that it was a good time to go into coaching. I spoke with the Italian Football Federation to have my referee certificate revoked. [According to FIFA rules, no one can be a referee and a coach at the same time.] Now I am happy to ask the individual who harassed me in Iran. I want to say to them: 'See me now, open your eyes and see.'"
The beginning of a dream come true
Shiva Amini now has an idea – to produce online football training videos. Her goal is to teach football to children who cannot train during the pandemic.
"Do you know where this idea started? Ever since I was a teenager. When I was going to a party and all the adults were busy and I was going to play with the kids. It was always easy for me to connect with kids. Ever since the coronavirus pandemic, my whole mind has been on the situation of kids. People say that children do not learn, but they do not understand how a child should grow up on days when he has no fun, no school, no mental security and needs to wear a mask. ... Parents buy a phone or tablet for the child and get rid of them. My idea was for the kids to practice with a ball and in the smallest possible space, even in the bedroom of a small house or in a hall."
Shiva Amini focused on "enhancing technique" and "child psychology": "What I saw here impressed me. Here I realized that coaches have to work on the minds of football players. This is one of FIFA's initiatives, to prevent recurring injuries to players. I rolled up my sleeves and made the first clip. The next day, I received hundreds of messages. Some messages brought tears to my eyes. For example, a boy wrote, 'Excuse me, our house is small.' Another said, sorry, we are poor. But they all of them sent me their training videos. I cried many times for joy. The reception of the children, both in Iran and abroad, was extraordinary."
Shiva says that after the broadcast of the first training video, three clubs in the Iranian Premier League contacted her to discuss a collaboration.But she prefers not to name these clubs at the moment.
"It was a wonderful thing that some Italian Series A stars called me and said they wanted to be in these videos. This means that I can use the best Italian football players. If there were no travel restrictions, we would be together this week. But unfortunately it could not happen. I think the Iranian kids will be motivated to see that they have to do the same exercises that top European football players do."
"No one here is as enthusiastic as I am," she says. "Because I became a footballer in Iran, where football was forbidden for girls when I was born. When it was allowed, were was subject to hijab, and training and playing in secret. We had no facilities, no respect, we had nothing. When I see the possibilities here, I become more eager to learn and teach. I came from absolute poverty."
Amini defines absolute poverty as follows: "We were on our way to the West Asian Games. They said the president wanted to meet with us in person. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president at the time. At the end of the meeting, he told us 'Go, win, and come back. When you come back I will give you each five golden coins from the presidential office, on top of what the federation and the ministry pay you.' We went and came back. After three years we found out that the federation had taken both the 75 coins from the ministry and the five coins from the presidential office.ut it did not even pay for the bus which returned us to the city."
Shiva Amini is also a member of the "Unity for Navid" campaign which lobbies the International Olympic Committee and world federations to suspend Iranian sports due to the Iranian government's political interference in sports.