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Sports

Persepolis Debt to Coach Gabriel Calderón Being Paid From Shia Cash Offerings

November 18, 2021
Payam Younesipour
4 min read
Last year the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Persepolis FC must pay $580,000 to ex-coach Gabriel Calderón
Last year the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Persepolis FC must pay $580,000 to ex-coach Gabriel Calderón
Manager Hassan Ansari-Fard has a history of buying two $691 suits for himself at a time on club money, but dipped into a state "small business" fund to pay Calderón
Manager Hassan Ansari-Fard has a history of buying two $691 suits for himself at a time on club money, but dipped into a state "small business" fund to pay Calderón

Media outlets in Iran are reporting that 22 billion tomans (US$780,000) from the national Omid Entrepreneurship Fund have been allocated to pay debts owed by Persepolis Football Club to former coach Gabriel Calderón. Both the fund’s managers and Persepolis FC deny it, even as a state-run newspaper, Iran, reports that it has documents showing the money changing hands. What is the Omid Entrepreneurship Fund, what is it meant to be for, and why does it have to pay for a foreign club coach? Most crucially of all - who's really paying?

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The Omid Entrepreneurship Fund was formally launched under the straightforward slogan: "Supporter of small businesses". The official website, by contrast, explains in the most complex way possible why and how it came to be formed between 2006 and 2014. In essence, the fund provides cash injections for government-approved enterprises in Iran.

It’s been a slow start. The fund’s statute was first reviewed on March 18, 2018 under Hassan Rouhani and finally approved on September 19, 2021 by the government of Ebrahim Raisi. The content was then communicated to to the Ministries of Economy, Labor, Interior, Agriculture, Industry, Sports, and Tourism, the Central Bank of Iran and the Office of the President, as well as the Vice President for Science and Technology.

Article Five of the fund's articles of association states that its sources of income are “government technical and credit assistance", "installments of facilities and loans granted" (in other words, interest on paid loans), "domestic and international cash and non-cash donations and gifts”, “endowment income” and “vows [oblations, or religious offerings often made at Shia ceremonies] as a source of Islamic micro-financing".

That is to say, gifts of money offered to God by the Iranian Shia community have been used to pay Gabriel Calderón, the Argentine former coach of Persepolis FC.

The Fund’s own statute lists a plethora of different purposes the grants can serve. It lists practically everything imaginable – except paying an Argentine football coach or the debts of a massive, state-owned sports club.

It also states that the chairman of the board of trustees will, at all times, be either the President of the Islamic Republic or his chosen representative. Other members of the board include the head of the Planning and Budget Organization, and the Ministers of Economy, Labor, Interior, Agriculture, Industry, Sports, and Tourism, the Central Bank of Iran and the Office of the President, as well as the Vice President for Science and Technology.

In its report on the final allocation of 22 billion tomans to pay back Gabriel Calderón, Iran newspaper claimed that current Minister of Sport Hamid Sajjadi had no idea such a fund even existed. With some incredulity it also wrote: "Hamid Sajjadi, Minister of Sports and Youth, is among the 12 members of the board of trustees. Meanwhile [Persepolis chairman] Seyed Majid Sadri and [board member and Tehran politician] Seyed Mohammad Fayyaz are the signatories from Persepolis, and the ones who opened an account to receive this sum."

At the end of its report, the state-run newspaper added: "After media coverage of this issue, three inspectors from the Office of the President have been deployed to said fund to investigate this issue."

It’s hard to believe that an amount of money this gargantuan was paid from the Fund without notification of and consultation with the chairman. This ought to have been either Ebrahim Raisi or a proxy. When the news broke, Isfahan MP Abbas Moghtadei wrote to Hamid Sajjadi demanding to know who authorized the payment, and reminding him that part of the $6m Iran was ordered by FIFA to pay to Mark Wilmots, ex-head coach of the national football team, was also partly drawn from the Social Security Organization.

Gabriel Calderón was fired from Persepolis in January 2020 on the decision of Mohammad Hassan Ansari-Fard, one of the club’s principlist managers. Ansari-Fard has a history of buying two suits costing 19.5 million tomans ($691) for himself at a time with money from the Persepolis account. He claimed Calderón was let go for “immoral relations” though other media reported the club couldn’t afford to pay him.

In early 2020, FIFA ordered Persepolis to pay $745,000 to Calderón. This was later reduced to $580,000 plus five percent interest and court fees at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. The transfer window for Persepolis was closed due to non-payment of Calderon's claims, while chairman Majid Sadri tried to take advantage of the situation, saying the club could in fact stump up the money – on the condition that the Ministry of Sports made him CEO.

Whether Sadri gets his wish remains to be seen. In the meantime, it appears that the Islamic Republic’s gargantuan debt to a foreign football coach is being paid, at least in part, from religious offerings by the Iranian faithful.

Related coverage:

March 4: FIFA's Deadline for Iran to Separate Politics from Football

Iranian Media: Esteghlal and Persepolis 'Excluded' from AFC Champions League

Decoding Iran’s Politics: Football and State Interference

The Corrupt Iranian Football Official Testing FIFA's Patience

Women Have Been Demanding Their Right to Play Football for Half a Century

Iran's Football Association: Speaking About Suspension is Against Our National Interest

Corruption, Lies, and Iran's Football Federation

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