Panionios’ Iranian Footballer Responds to National Team Ban

Panionios midfielder Masoud Shojaei, one of two Iranian international football players banned from the national team after playing against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv, says he had no intention to offend and his priority is always to be “a suitable representative for the country.”

“My country has always been and will be my priority,” midfielder Masoud Shojaei wrote on his Instagram page. “I have always tried to work wholeheartedly to be a suitable representative for the country.”

It came a week after news he and teammate Haji Safi had been banned for life from the national team for playing in a Europa League qualifier with their Greek club Panionios, against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The Iranian government does not recognize Israel and bars its sportsmen from participating against Israelis in any event, including at the Olympics.

Iran appeared to row back the ban after a huge outcry from football fans on social media and the launch of an investigation by FIFA, which has rules against political interference in national teams.

In his Instagram post, Shojaei appeared to respond to critics who said his appearance against an Israeli team had “disrespected” Iranian martyrs.

“I am the child of war and come from a town of sacrifice and resistance,” he said, referring to the brutal eight-year conflict against Iraq in the 1980s.

“I well understand the status of those dear ones who gave everything to defend us and God forbid, I will never try to abuse the name, image and sacrifice of these angels,” he wrote.