Tue, Jan 27, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Soccer boss in hot water after ‘battle of sexes’ in Iran

NO-NO: Rumors that male and female players played against each are being investigated by a body that enforces separation of men and women

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A 7-0 drubbing would be enough to threaten the position of any soccer manager. But it is not the scoreline that could lead to the sacking of Alireza Mansourian, the academy director of one of Iran’s biggest clubs. It is allegations that the club’s male and female players staged a battle-of-the-sexes match behind closed doors, breaching the country’s strict gender segregation laws.

The encounter is said to have occurred between the female and male youth teams of Esteghlal, a Tehran-based club with a mass following and under the overall authority of Iran’s Islamic rulers.

The claims have embarrassed the management, which has denied any such match took place. Sensitivity has been heightened by Esteghlal’s historic success and prestige — the club has twice won the Asian championship and was once closely linked to the monarchy under the shah, when it was known as Taj (crown). It was confiscated and renamed Esteghlal (independence) by the new regime after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The allegations have prompted an internal inquiry and are being investigated by the state-run sports governing body that enforces separation of men and women in competitions and venues.

If proved, they could lead to the sacking of Mansourian, a former international who played for Iran in the 1998 World Cup finals. He is understood to be under pressure from the club’s president, Amir Vaez Ashtiani, who has called for tough action against the possible culprits.

Iranian media reported the match finished with a score of 7-0 to the male team at Esteghlal’s Marghoubkar stadium last Tuesday.

Mehr news agency suggested spectators shot pictures and film, although no images have been published. Officials insist the two teams came into contact only briefly because their training sessions overlapped.

Mansourian said the youth team wandered on to the playing field 10 minutes before the end of the women’s session but were promptly ordered off by security staff.

“I was not present at the stadium but I heard that such an incident took place. However, on examination, I concluded that the incident did not happen in the way it is alleged,” he said.

“Esteghlal football club is committed to moral values and will take action against wrongdoers according to the law. Action will be quickly taken against those involved and the culprits will be legally punished,” Mansourian said.

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