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The Return of the Ultimate (and Corrupt) Football Insider

June 21, 2020
Payam Younesipour
4 min read
Ali Kafashian was returned to the helm of Iran’s Football Federation with the support of the Ministry of Sport
Ali Kafashian was returned to the helm of Iran’s Football Federation with the support of the Ministry of Sport
With Ali Kafashian’s return to the football federation, Iran hopes to prevent its suspension by FIFA
With Ali Kafashian’s return to the football federation, Iran hopes to prevent its suspension by FIFA

The former head of Iran's football federation, who was suspended for corruption, has been returned to its helm, prompting criticism and disbelief.

Ali Kafashian, who was the president of the Iranian Football Federation for eight years and its vice president for three, has now returned to the football federation after a three-year suspension for financial corruption.

“His return to football is a crime,” Ehsan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a conservative principlist member of the parliament said in response to the news that Kafashian was returning as a member of the federation’s board of directors and as its acting president.

In June 2019, Ali Kafashian, who was vice president of the federation at the time, and Abbas Torabian, the former head of the federation’s international committee, were suspended for five years by the federation’s disciplinary committee for the “corrupt use of payments for TV broadcasting.” But exactly one year later, the federation’s appeals committee reduced the suspension from five years to one and now Kafashian is back as acting president. This confirmed information IranWire obtained in early June that Kafashian might return as acting president.


Breach of Obligations to FIFA

On May 29, the International Football Federation (FIFA) threatened Iranian football with suspension after new amendments to the Iranian Football Federation's constitution violated FIFA’s charter. Although the letter from FIFA did not explicitly use the word “suspension,” it warned: “if this notice is disregarded, the issue will be referred to relevant FIFA bodies for further action.”

The letter said that the Islamic Republic of Iran Football Federation’s (IRFF) amendments would “jeopardize” Iran’s compliance with Articles 14 and 19 of the FIFA Statutes that “stipulate that all member associations are obliged to manage their affairs independently and without undue influence from third parties. For example, the presence of the Minister of Sport as a fully-fledged member of the IRIFF general assembly would place the IRIFF in direct breach of the aforementioned obligations as set out in the FIFA Statutes.”

The letter signaled that if Iran failed to amend its charter, FIFA would also demand changes to the directors of the IRFF. On May 30, a day after the FIFA letter was sent, Mehdi Taj, also a former president of the football federation, hosted a meeting between federation directors and Iranian sports ministry representatives in Tehran’s Jordan neighborhood.

At the meeting it was decided that if FIFA applied further pressure on the federation to replace its current directors, Ali Kafashian should return as acting president and eventually be instated as the chairman of the transitory or “normalization” committee. On June 2, IranWire was the first to report on the agreement and the possibility of Ali Kafashian’s return. 

One of the main reasons Kafashian was selected was his very close relations with FIFA and his popularity within Iran’s Ministry of Sport.

Then, on June 5, the Iranian Football Federation sent its new charter to FIFA to head off the certain forthcoming suspension. The new charter stated that the sports minister no longer had the right to vote in federation matters and the word “public” was removed from the federation’s name.

Three days later, FIFA confirmed that it had received the new charter and reported that it had sent it to the Asian Football Confederation to assess its compliance with FIFA Statutes. Nevertheless, there were concerns within both the sports ministry and the football federation that the two international bodies would still have objections. Following pressure from the sports ministry, Ali Kafashian once again returned to the federation.

In the 1980s, Ali Kafashian, who majored in economics from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, was the director of the Iranian Central Bank’s Currency Bureau. His résumé also features the vice presidency of the Physical Education Organization, the predecessor to Iran’s sports ministry, and he was also director general of Iran’s National Olympics Committee. As a result, he is in good standing with both Iranian political officials and the international football federation.

However, it is not only certain politicians who oppose Kafashian’s return. There are a number of people within the federation that object as well, Mehdi Taj, the former president of the football federation, chief among them. After his resignation, Taj had tried to keep his deputy Heydar Baharvand at the helm.

Reactions to the return of Kafashian are ongoing. Farhad Ashvandi, editor in chief of the news website Khabar Online, tweeted that “$312,000 had disappeared” during Kafashian’s involvement in Iranian football and said his return was proof that the sport was not being “cleaned” of corruption. He asked a question that perhaps many others in Iran wanted to know: “How is it possible that you return after one year even though you were suspended for five years while the fate of those dollars...remains unclear?”  


Related Coverage:

Iran's Football Association: Speaking About Suspension is Against Our National Interest, 2 June 2020

IranWire Exclusive: FIFA Suspends Iran's Membership, 1 June 2020

Parliament Poised to Ban Iranian Athletes from Competing Against Israelis, 12 May 2020

The Corrupt Iranian Football Official Testing FIFA's Patience, 29 April 2020




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