Football and all other sports should be free from religion and politics, but when countries are against each other, this rule becomes difficult to uphold. Recently the country of Iran banned two of its players for playing a football match against an Israeli team.

According to an Iranian government spokesperson, the two players are prohibited from representing the national team after playing against an Israeli club in the Europa League. The men in question are Masoud Shojaei, the 33-year-old captain of the Iran team, and 27-year-old midfielder Ehsan Haji Safi.

They played for Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv just last week.

Both players did not perform in the first leg

Reports from say the men did not play for the entire first leg of the Europa League qualifier in Israel, and only featured in a home match back on August 3, a game their team failed to win. Despite that, playing a single game against a team based in Israel is a violation of government laws.

One might be wondering, why is this happening in the first place? Well, Iran does not view Israel is a country and has barred all their athletes from competing against Israeli teams.

In a recent statement, Mohammad Reza Davarzani, Iran’s deputy sports minister, made it clear that both men will never be called upon to serve their country at any local or international event.

Davarzani went on to admit that the men have a contract with their club to play and be paid for their services, but from Iran’s government point of view, playing against teams from Israel should be exempt from any contract.

Both players serviced their country well

It’s a shame because both men have performed well for their country, and did not deserve this treatment from the government.

It’s a clear sign of why religion should never be associated with this impressive game.

It’s a sad state of affairs because Shojaei helped his team qualify for the World Cup in 2018. He has 70 caps for Iran’s national team and is also one of the most experienced. As for Safi, he had 84 caps for the national team and was set to play in Russia next year.

Interestingly enough, Shojaei was shunned back in June of this year, after he asked Iran president Hassan Rouhani if he would allow women to enter the stadium to watch the Iranian team play. That was a bold move despite knowing what could have happened.

In the highly religious Iran, it’s possible Shojaei could have been executed for his request of the President. Luckily, he was only shunned and is still playing football.