In the early years of the 2000s, several Iranian footballers who played for Pas FC claimed they had been forced to sign up with the club after being arrested in police raids on parties and other gatherings.
At that time, the club’s chairman, Mostafa Ajorlou, who serves as a commander in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), was said to have blackmail footballers he wanted to recruit and have them temporarily arrested.
The Islamic Republic appears to be using a similar tactic to intimidate and threaten football players to prevent them from expressing solidarity with ongoing wave of nationwide of protests against the country’s clerical establishment.
On January 1, media outlets affiliated with the government reported that police briefly detained several unidentified top-tier football players in a raid on a “mixed-gender” party on New Year's Eve where alcohol was served in violation of an Islamic ban.
Mingling between sexes outside marriage and drinking alcohol are banned under the Islamic Republic’s Islamic laws. Social restrictions are among issues that prompted the unrest sparked the September death in custody of a 22-year-old woman accused of allegedly violating the strict dress code.
"Some of the players were in an abnormal state due to alcohol consumption," said the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency, adding that the detained footballers had criticized the bloody state crackdown on protests.
The security forces have killed more than 500 people and detained over 18,000, human rights activists say. At least 100 protesters are currently at risk of “execution, death penalty charges or sentences,” according to one rights group, including Iranian footballer Amir Reza Nasr Azadani, who was sentenced to death last month for joining the demonstrations.
Borna, a news agency affiliated with the Sports Ministry, claimed that more than 20 young people, including underage girls and boys, who were wearing “inappropriate attire” were among those detained at the party.
The official IRNA news agency reported that the police raid took place after neighbors complained about the noise from the gathering.
According to Radio Farda, the detained footballers included Dariush Shojaeian, Mehdi Ghaedi, Mehdi Mehdipour and Babak Moradi, all members of Tehran’s Esteghlal football team.
IranWire’s sources said these players had gathered with their families to mark the anniversary of Ghaedi’s marriage, and that none of them were “drunk” or “dazed.”
One source said the party was held in a remote villa near the city of Damavand, and that the noise could not disturb people living around the property. According to this source, all the young boys and girls who were detained were family members of Ghaedi and his wife.
After the raid, Mohammad Akhundi, an influential figure in Iranian football, tried to discredit the footballers who have not endorsed the Islamic Republic’s crackdown on protests.
“Don’t you believe the many stories posted by famous footballers who say that they are mourning and support the people,” he tweeted.
Akhundi is an advisor to the Sports Minister, a candidate in the last election to the presidency of the Iranian Football Federation, a current member of Tehran City Council and the managing editor of the newspaper Vatan-e Emrouz.
He has called for the “immediate execution” of the protesters.