Sports

Senior Iranian Football Official Resigns to FIFA – Not to Iran

February 4, 2022
Payam Younesipour
5 min read
Mehdi Mahdavikia, a senior Iranian football official, has resigned under a barrage of negative press from the IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency
Mehdi Mahdavikia, a senior Iranian football official, has resigned under a barrage of negative press from the IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency
Fars has in recent years tried to place people in managerial or consulting positions in important Iranian sports federations or clubs
Fars has in recent years tried to place people in managerial or consulting positions in important Iranian sports federations or clubs
Fars News Agency attacked Mahdavikia because of what it called his involvement in a project to normalize Iran’s relations with Israel
Fars News Agency attacked Mahdavikia because of what it called his involvement in a project to normalize Iran’s relations with Israel

Mehdi Mahdavikia, who was meant to be the new head coach of Iran's Omid national team, an under-23 team and technical director of the Iranian Football Federation, has resigned under a barrage of negative press by Fars News Agency.

According to Tabnak news agency, Mahdavikia, in response to an invitation received from the World Football Federation, has announced that he no longer has any position in the Iranian Football Federation and will not attend an upcoming FIFA meeting.

The resignation as technical director of the Iranian Football Federation came after Fars News Agency, affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), launched an unprecedented attack on him in recent weeks. Commentators have suggested that the attacks, and the case that was being built against him, stems from Fars News Agency share-seeking in positions in the Football Federation.

And just as Shahaboddin Azizi Khadem, the new president of the Football Federation, took up his post, news was published that the position of chairman of the National Football Committee was assigned to the sports editor of Fars News Agency; the Football Federation's choice, however, had been Mehdi Madhdavikia.

What was Fars News Agency’s goal in ousting Mehdi Mahdavikia?

Fars has in recent years tried to place people in managerial or consulting positions in important Iranian sports federations or clubs. To achieve this, they sometimes open security cases against their rivals. One example was at Esteghlal Club, and the wave of attacks on Soheil Gohari, the club's former public relations manager.

Gohari was forced to resign after being appointed as Esteghlal’s media director due to pressure from IRGC-affiliated media, including the Fars News Agency and its sports editor. He died of covid shortly after his ousting.

On December 17, 2021, the World Football Federation, on the occasion of finally holding the Arab Cup after 60 years, recognized and registered in its calendar a symbolic game hosted by the city of Doha, Watar, between the Arabian team “Arab Stars” and the Iranian team “Select of the World”.

Mehdi Mahdavikia, a former star of the Iranian national football team and head coach of the country's under-23 team, was present with the “Select of the World” team at FIFA’s invitation.

Fars News Agency attacked Mahdavikia’s presence at the match because of what it called his involvement in a project to normalize Iran’s relations with Israel.

The presence of Avram Grant, an Israeli citizen and former head coach of Chelsea on the bench of the “Select of the World” team, as assistant coach of Arsene Wenger, who also placed Israeli flag next to the flags of all FIFA member countries on the shirts of the players of both teams, was interpreted by Fars as a sign of Mahdavikia's interest in normalizing Iran-Israel relations.

Since then, in a series of reports, Fars has tried to attract the attention of security institutions and Islamic Republic officials to file a case against Mehdi Mahdavikia.

Fars News Agency's attempt to talk to figures such as Alireza Salimi, a member of the presidium of the Iranian parliament, had two objectives; Mahdavikia’s dismissal from the Omid national team, and his removal from the board of directors of the Football Federation.

The true issue was not Israel or whether Mahdavikia had shown sufficient solidarity with the Palestinian people.

One way of demonstrating this is that, on October 13, 2021, Fars News Agency had published a picture of the representative of the Islamic Republic with an Israeli delegation including the Israeli flag, in a report entitled "The Sixth Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building in Asia."

Fars was not critical of the presence of Alireza Haghighian, Assistant Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who was at the meeting and standing close to Israel’s representative.

And yet IRGC-affiliated media also splashed headlines such as "Mahdavikia's game in the normalization puzzle with the Zionists", "Request for the immediate removal of Mehdi Mahdavikia from the post of head coach of Omid team", "Expulsion of domestic supporters of the baby-killer Zionist murderers and criminal regime from national sports and politics," and "Remove Mahdavikia from coaching Omid team".

How was news of Mahdavikia's resignation spread?

On December 24, 2021, Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of political science at the University of Tehran, appeared on IranWire's Instagram account and said: "Israel has become an excuse for political settlements. If there was no dissatisfaction with Mr. Mahdavikia or the Iranian football team, they would not have raised this issue."

Mahdavikia, under pressure from Fars News Agency, did not inform the Football Federation ahead of his resignation. But last week, FIFA contacted all those who had introduced to the it as technical directors of FIFA member federations to invite them to a conference. Mahdavikia, in a written response to FIFA, said that he was no longer the technical director of the Iranian Football Federation; this is how the news broke.

Iranian media have claimed that \ FIFA immediately contacted the Iranian federation and asked them to introduce its new technical director to attend the conference.

Mahdavikia had been officially appointed as the national technical director – but he had not yet signed his contract as head coach of the under-23 team or the Omid team. He therefore no longer has any position in Iranian football.

On August 31, 2021, Mahdavikia had accepted the position of head coach of the Iranian under-23 national team, having previously been the head coach of the Hamburg youth team.

He left Germany to accept, for the first time, to coach in Iranian football. Mehdi Mahdavikia had previously started the Kia Academy in Iranian football, which for the past decade has worked at the grassroots to scout and cultivate Iranian football talent without using government funds.

Related coverage:

FIFA's Deadline for Iran to Separate Politics from Football

Did Team Melli Just Arrive in Beirut With Suitcases Full of Cash?

Caught Between FIFA and a Fatwa, Iran's Football Bosses Keep Pro League Matches Closed

IranWire Exclusive: FIFA Suspends Iran's Membership

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