TEHRAN — Two Iranian soccer players who engaged in “inappropriate” celebratory behavior on national television might face public lashings on the pitch, the semiofficial Fars News Agency reported Tuesday.
Members of parliament, sports officials and judges have called for the “swift punishment” of Mohammad Nosrati and Sheys Rezaei, two soccer stars playing for one of Iran’s most popular clubs, Tehran-based Persepolis.
After one of their teammates scored the winning goal of a 3-2 match on Saturday, ending a long losing streak, Nosrati pressed his hand into Rezaei’s behind as they and their teammates jumped on each other in celebration.
As millions watched on television, Nosrati appeared to be trying to push his hand between Rezaei’s buttocks.
Iran’s football federation immediately banned both players indefinitely and fined them nearly $40,000 each, Fars reported. A judiciary official told Fars that Nosrati and Rezaei could also face public lashings, to be carried out on the very soccer pitch where the questionable behavior occurred.
According to the norms of ultra-conservative Iran, “this action can be considered as a violation of public chastity,” Judge Valiollah Hosseini told the news agency. “The punishment of this crime is prison up to two months and 74 lashes.”
“It is even worse to do these actions before the eyes of thousands of spectators and TV cameras,” Hosseini added.
Social values and norms have strongly changed within Iran over the past decade, following a rise in living standards, access to the Internet and social networking and, in general, more connections to the outside world.
The increased openness has triggered a backlash, with Iran’s ruling Shiite Muslim clerics doing all they can to control public space and state television and to make an example of those who publicly step out of line. As public figures, athletes and actors have to walk a tightrope, although they are not part of the Islamic establishment.
An actress was sentenced to lashing recently for appearing in a movie without a head scarf; that punishment was revoked before it was executed. Last week, a soccer player was forced to cut his long hair on the pitch before playing in a match.
Iranian soccer stars say the authorities are overreacting to the latest indiscretion. Ali Parvin, a former Persepolis coach and a venerated figure in Iranian soccer, has spoken out against banning Nosrati and Rezaei, saying that officials should offer guidance to the players instead of punishing them.
“Come and execute them if it relieves you,” he said sarcastically.
Former national team player Mehdi Mahdavikia said Iranian media were making a big deal out of the incident.
“When I was playing in Germany, such things happened all the time,” he said.