Iranian Kurdish footballer faces backlash over criticism of foreign minister

Iran’s Ministry of Sport and Youth summoned Kurdish footballer Voria Ghafouri to explain his remarks criticizing the country's foreign policy.

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Authorities in Iran have summoned an Iranian Kurdish footballer to answer for comments he recently made criticizing the country’s foreign policy.

Voria Ghafouri, 31, blasted Tehran’s policy in the Middle East last week in an Instagram post which has since been deleted.

The 31-year-old defender, born in Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province, plays for the Iranian national team and Esteghlal in Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League. He appeared to direct his criticism at Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“Mr. Zarif, you who say that you are proud you are under pressure because of Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen and Syria, know that it’s not you who is under pressure,” the footballer wrote. “In reality, it’s ordinary people that are under pressure.” 

The post appeared to be in response to recent comments made by Zarif, insisting that he was "proud of defending the people of Palestine," after which he was reported as having added, "Today, we are all under pressure.”

Ghafouri later refused to retract his statement in an interview with local media and said he had no reason to be afraid.

“It’s as if they’re throwing salt on the people’s pain and wounds,” the Kurdish footballer stated. “All people are under pressure, and they [the leadership] say things that make things worse.”

Indeed, Iran has seen a wave of anti-government protests in recent years as Iranians across the country demand an end to Tehran’s involvement in regional conflicts, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

Another footballer, former Bayern Munich and Iran national team player, Ali Karimi, also criticized Zarif’s comments. “Which ‘we’ are under pressure Doctor [Zarif]? Strictly speaking, ‘you,’ or ‘us?’” he wrote on Instagram.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei responded to the footballers during a speech on Monday honoring the 27 Revolutionary Guard members recently killed in a suicide attack.

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“Some people who take advantage of the country’s security to work and play sport should know that this is how security is ensured,” state media quoted him as saying.

Following Khamenei’s comments, Iran’s Ministry of Sport and Youth summoned Ghafouri to explain his remarks. There is no confirmation that Karimi was summoned as well. 

Editing by John J. Catherine