Thursday, October 11, 2007

Germany suspends Iranian soccer player

Oct 11, 2007 13:37 | Updated Oct 11, 2007 13:40

Ashkan Dejagah, the Iranian-born German soccer player who sparked an international controversy for his refusal to play in Israel, has been permanently suspended from the team, Theo Zwanziger, the president of the German Football Association (DFB) announced on Thursday.

In his meeting with Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon, Zwanziger seemingly backtracked from a statement he made earlier in the week in which he supported the Dejagah's right to refuse to play, saying instead that the DBA "will not let this slide; he will be taken care of and suspended."

The decision comes one day after a spokesperson for the German government condemned Delagah's position.

"The interior minister is of the opinion that all members of German soccer teams must agree to play in any nation that Germany has a sports connection with," the spokesperson said. "It is forbidden that political circumstances would influence this."

The controversy began last weekend, when Dejagah decided to opt out of playing in the Israel versus Germany Under-21 European Championship qualifying match in Tel Aviv due to "personal reasons."

In a DFB statement, the striker, who plays for Bundesliga side Vfb Wolfsburg, asked for "understanding" from the German Football Association that the "reasons are of a very personal nature and lie in my closest family."

However, the German daily Bild quoted Dejagah as saying his refusal "had political reasons."

"Everyone knows I am an Iranian-born German," he said.

Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran has not recognized Israel's right to exist, Iranians are not allowed to travel to Israel and the country's president has famously called for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Although Germany Under-21 coach Dieter Eilts has accepted Dejagah's choice to opt out of Friday's match, DFB president Theo Zwanziger initially criticized the 20-year-old, telling German media over the weekend, "If we start doing things for political reasons, it will be sport itself which loses."

But Zwanziger made a dramatic turnaround on Monday when the DFB released a statement saying the president had agreed that Dejagah did not have to play.

The statement said Zwanziger "respected the decision of the coach... that the player stated reasons which lie in the private sector."

Dejagah has considered playing for Iran rather than Germany at the international level.

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