On May 1, Iran Football Federation issued a statement that was supported by media outlets close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) but was met with an outcry from around the country's football community. The first to report on the new and unprecedented rules by the federation was Fars news agency, which is affiliated with the IRGC, under the title “The Ten Commandments of the Football Federation."
The new rules not only violate the charter and bylaws of football's world governing body, FIFA, but they are also aimed at strengthening the protective wall around officials at the national federation.
Meanwhile, the news agency Tabnak published a list of corruption cases against Mehdi Taj, president of the federation, and his fruitless foreign visits, and asked the judiciary whether he should be allowed to travel abroad.
The title chosen by Fars news agency for the official statement released by the federation, of course, is a not-so-subtle reference to the Ten Commandments written by the finger of Yahweh on tablets of stone.
The federation’s ten commandments force clubs, players and coaches to remain silent, without exceptions, during the remaining weeks of Iran's Persian Gulf Pro League competitions. The statement explicitly bans “comments and interviews against officials,” “comments and interviews by officials of the tournament, representatives of the federation and the league’s organization without a prior permit, and “issuing statements by the clubs and their associated agents.” It even orders the clubs to film the matches -- and the spectators.
It should come as no surprise that some media outlets called the statement the “new dictatorship” in Iranian football.
Are the Ten Commandments of “Iran’s football Yahweh” Legal?
Article 14 of the 2022 FIFA Statutes specifies that member associations must “comply fully with the Statutes, regulations, directives and decisions of FIFA bodies at any time” and that violations "by any member association may lead to sanctions provided for in these Statutes.” And Article 16 further states that a member association “that seriously violates its obligations” can be temporarily suspended.
None of the articles in these statutes or FIFA’s disciplinary rulebooks empowers the president of a football federation to order its member to remain silent and refrain from issuing statements, to ban criticism by federation officials and coaches and to require clubs to film the games and the spectators.
The newspaper Farhikhtegan interviewed the spokesman of Esteghlal FC and concluded that, legally speaking, these “ten commandments” cannot be carried out in Iranian football.
Travelling Abroad while Facing Corruption Charges
At the same time that the federation’s “Ten Commandments” were issued, the news agency Tabnak published a report about Taj's repeated foreign travels. Under the sarcastic headline “Football’s Boss or Foreign Minister?” the news agency wrote that the federation's president has not missed any low-grade meeting of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
A while back, within the context of re-establishing diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic, Taj flew to Riyadh and attended AFC Champions League competitions. Then, less than 48 hours after returning to Tehran, he left the country for Tajikistan to participate in the congress of the Central Asian Football Association (CAFA). And now, the national football federation announced that its president will soon have a meeting with FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino.
“Mehdi Taj cannot speak any international language, including English, and during the AFC and FIFA meetings he usually listens to the interpreter on headphones to understand what is being said,” Tabnak news agency wrote. “He usually does not say anything at the meetings and only raises his hand in agreement or in opposition.”
What can be gained by such meetings like the one between Taja and Infantino? the news agency asked. What Tabnak could not or would not mention is the fees that Taj receives from AFC and FIFA for attending these meetings.
In February, IranWire received evidence that Taj has received $207,000 for participating in FIFA and AFC meetings. He received this money just for participating in gatherings where, according to Tabnak, he only moves his hand to signal whether he agrees or disagrees with others.
The news agency also claimed that, besides the money he receives from foreign sources, Taj also benefits from perks such as first-class and business-class plane tickets and travel compensation.
Taj is one of the few person in Iran who can freely travel abroad while facing hefty corruption cases. He is a former member and a close ally of the IRGC, which have relentlessly promoted and protected him.
In September 2022, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that the accusations against Taj included “abuse of job position," "use of fake documents," "falsification of reports,” forgery (listed as a separate offence), “illegal use of government property," "unauthorized use of the federation's financial resources," "negligence leading to the loss of public funds in the amount of more than 10 million euros ($11 million)," "disruption to the monetary and currency system of the country," fraud and "collusion in government transactions."
Referring to these charges, Tabnak asked: “Numerous court cases against Mehdi Taj are still pending so how can the court repeatedly grant exit permits to somebody who is charged” with corruption involving millions of US dollars?
Now, with such a heavy corruption baggage on his neck, Taj has banned Iran’s football community from criticizing him, his managers and his organization.