Ashkan Dejagah, a 21-year-old Iranian-born German soccer player’s refusal to play in Israel is perhaps one of the most shameful and ridiculous displays of unsportsmanlike conduct I have seen from anyone of Iranian background. Dejagah who moved to Germany as a child with his family, cited “political reasons” for pulling out of last Friday’s qualification match for the European Under-21 Championship in Tel Aviv. “I have more Iranian than German blood in my veins,” said Dejagah to Berlin’s daily tabloid Bild. “I am doing it out of respect. After all, my parents are Iranian”. Members of Germany’s Jewish community denounced Dejagah’s actions and called for the Herman soccer federation to exclude him from the German national team because of his anti-Israel stance.
As a journalist, it always amazes me how young Iranians worldwide have sometimes bought into the ridiculous anti-Israel hatred spewed by Iran’s government. People like Dejagah with their outrageous actions often make it difficult for other Iranians who are not Jewish to distance themselves from the ideology of Iran’s government. In my opinion it is not only unsportsmanlike for any player to wage a private boycott against a country including Israel, but especially insulting when a player from Germany of all places with its history of anti-Semitism displays this type of behavior! The soccer field and other arenas of sports should not be a place for politics but where people of various backgrounds come together to unite and have fun. Typically one would expect to see anti-Israel or anti-Semitic behavior from a person who has been raised in Iran where such rhetoric is prevelant in the media. Therefore to see this shameful behavior come from a person like Dejagah who left Iran at a young age is particularly disturbing and leaves me wondering where he picked up his hate for Israel.
But Dejagah is not the first Iranian athlete to refused to compete in Israel, in 2004, Vahid Hashemian of the “Bayern Munich” team refused to play a Champions League game against Maccabi Tel Aviv. While Hashemian stated that he had a back injury, the Iranian government officially warned him that he would face “consequences” at home in Iran if he traveled to Israel. Likewise during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, an Iranian judo champion refused to fight an Israeli opponent citing that he was too overweight to fight Israel’s Ehud Vaks. The International Judo Federation later concluded that the fighter was not overweight and he was later disqualified. Likewise in 2001 Mahed Malekmohammadi of Iran and a world judo champion refused to compete against Yoel Razvozov of Israel citing “political reasons”.