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Corruption Scandal Rocks Iranian Regime’s Football Federation

Three-minute read

In the Iranian regime, where unity among officials is primarily based on their association with crimes against humanity and the plundering of national resources, football has also become a field for corruption and the enrichment of the authorities. 

Following the dismissal of two regime operatives from the Football Federation because of the revelation of their financial corruption, the state-run media outlet Khabar Online reported, “The extent of the embezzled amount is so vast that it could significantly shake up half of the Premier League football teams. In the coming days, more aspects of this black hole will be revealed.”

The state-run newspaper Jomhouri Eslami also commented on the extensive financial corruption, which has surpassed the costs of national infrastructure projects. This corruption scandal surfaces despite the frequent rhetoric about combating corruption in the country, highlighting the regime’s hypocrisy and lip service to anti-corruption efforts.

Mehdi Taj, the president of the regime’s Football Federation, revealed new details about the corruption cases involving Khodadad Afsharian, head of the Referees Committee, and Soheil Mehdi, head of the Competitions Committee of the League Organization, along with two other football-related individuals. Taj stated that the four accused had received bribes totaling 25 gold coins.

On the evening of May 17, during a sports television program, Taj mentioned that a judiciary case had been opened in Kerman to investigate this corruption, claiming to have no knowledge of the reasons behind the bribery.

Contrary to Taj’s mention of 25 gold coins, the state-run newspaper Arman Melli previously reported that according to the corruption case involving the state-owned Mes Rafsanjan Football Club, the club’s CEO and technical director had confessed to paying 231 gold coins as bribes to individuals within the Football Federation, Premier League Organization, Referees Committee, and sports news editors.

Additionally, on Tuesday, the head of the Kerman Province Judiciary announced the formation of a case to investigate allegations of financial corruption in one of the province’s football clubs. Ebrahim Hamidi stated that this case dates back to 2021 and earlier, with investigations commencing in winter 2023.

Mehdi Taj also referenced similar corruption cases, noting that in 2021, the Ethics Committee suspended four individuals in a corruption case involving the Mes Shahr Babak Football Club.

Meanwhile, Mehdi Seyedali, a former Iranian football referee, recounted an attempt to bribe him in 2020 by the head of a provincial football board. In an interview with the sports program “Varzesh va Mardom,” Seyedali said, “They had placed gold coins and handicraft gifts in the radio system bag… and asked for assistance in ensuring that their team would win, which I rejected.”

Trying to justify the fiasco, the state-run Asr-e-Iran website published a report on May 18, arguing, “The reality is that the financial turnover in Iranian football is high, and wherever there is money, the potential for corruption is high. When there is no oversight of the actions of supervisors and decision-makers, corruption is likely to occur. Additionally, some agents and managers are involved in the process, doing anything to fill their pockets and sometimes offering players to clubs in a ‘package deal.'”

Citing a major scandal in the history of football, the source added, “The Calciopoli of Iranian football proves that, like any other sector, corruption exists in this area as well. The main issue is oversight and criteria and regulations must be designed to prevent unqualified and recommended individuals from mistakenly being placed in positions of authority.”

However, what the state-controlled outlet fails to mention is that those responsible for oversight are often the ones committing the most significant crimes, wielding authority over a set of laws that enable them to enrich themselves. This once again underscores the necessity for groundbreaking change from top to bottom to halt the systemic corruption cycle in Iran.