An Iranian citizen journalist, who writes under a pseudonym to protect his identity, wrote the following article on the ground inside Iran.
On November 1, the website World of Volley ran a disturbing headline: “SEX SCANDAL: Paykan’s Player expelled from Club World Championship!” It then went on to publish the volleyball player’s full name, Reza Safaei. Following this, the World Volleyball Federation expelled Safaei for what they called “immoral behavior.”
Before this, Safaei had also been referred to in the media as “R.S.” or as the “Paykan player.” Safei normally played for the Paykan Tehran Volleyball Club.
So what happened? Could this be a case of cultural misunderstanding?
The World of Volley website reported that, according to sources close to the organizers, Safaei had sexually harassed a waitress at a hotel in late October. The alleged assault took place at the Hotel Mercure in the center of the Brazilian city Belo Horizonte, where the 2014 FIFA World Cup match between Iran and Argentina was played. According to the website, cameras in the hotel elevators recorded the incident. When presented with evidence, the federation immediately expelled Reza Safaei.
Two hours after the news broke, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) claimed that the management of the hotel had discovered it had made a mistake and retracted its complaint. Speaking from Brazil, Mahmoud Shiei, the director-general of Paykan Tehran VC, told IRNA that what had been published about the “Paykan player” was “not true.”
But the World Volleyball Federation did not retract its verdict. Reza Safaei was sent home to Iran.
The website Cup reported that full footage of the CCTV video had been presented to Paykan Club officials but, in a statement presented to IRNA by the club’s director general, Reza Safaei denied the charge. “I had no contact with that person,” he said in the statement. “The woman entered the elevator with a big cart and hit it hard against my leg. I felt a terrible pain and pushed the cart away. This was a natural and unconscious reaction. The cart then knocked hard against the woman, which resulted in this report. If they claim to have a video then let them show it.”
Then Reza Hasani-Khoo, director-general of security for the Ministry of Sports and Youth, personally intervened in the case. He asked Paykan Club officials to provide him with footage of the alleged assault at the Brazilian hotel, giving them a week to present the evidence.
But Paykan’s officials were busy solving public relations problems. “The player took the employee elevator to see his doctor,” Mahmoud Shiei told IRNA. “But hotel personnel prevented the player from using the elevator. Unfortunately, the Paykan player clashed slightly with members of the hotel staff, and in the course of this clash, he pushed a food cart toward a waitress. After the incident, employees complained to the hotel’s manager, who relayed the complaint to a representative of the World Volleyball Federation.”
Two Competing Stories
There was a discrepancy between the narrative presented by Paykan’s director-general and that of Reza Safaei. Safaei said he was already in the elevator when he was hit by the woman’s cart, but Shiei claimed that Safaei tried to enter the elevator but hotel employees stopped him. If the director-general is correct, then what did cameras in the elevators and just outside of the elevator record? It could be that both Rasaei and the Paykan club boss are relying on the fact that volleyball is one of the sports minister’s favorite sport — and that the ministry’s security would do its best to clear his name.
Shiei claims that the complaint has now been retracted but the federation’s website described the event as “an unprecedented incident by a Paykan team player.”
Perhaps more information will emerge as to what really happened at the Hotel Mercure when the Sports Ministry’s Security unit presents its verdict. The problem is, however, that this verdict is likely to be kept from the public and will not be reported in the media. The fate of Reza Safaei will most likely be determined by this verdict.
So what really happened: Is Reza Safaei guilty of sexual assault? Was it a simple understandable mistake? Or was it all a serious cultural misunderstanding?
Pedram Ghaemi, Citizen Journalist