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World Cup 2006

Debate Resurfaces Over Excluding Iran from Soccer World Cup

Iran's behavior of late has outraged many in the international community. Some are saying the country should be excluded from the Soccer World Cup. Soccer's governing body FIFA doesn't agree.

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Could the cheer from Iran's fans turn to anger before the World Cup?

The extremist views and words of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has had some politicians in Germany and abroad calling for Iran's exclusion from the Soccer World Cup, which takes place in Germany this summer. The deepening row over the country's nuclear program has those calls going out again.

In December, several Green Party politicians called for action to be taken against Iran for publicly denying the Holocaust and calling for the destruction of Israel. The head of the parliamentary group of the Green Party in the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, said excluding Iran would be a good way to isolate the country internationally.

Also in December, Angelika Beer, a European Green parliamentarian, said that a country with such a president "has no business at the World Cup." Volker Beck, the party's parliamentary group leader in Germany, also spoke of Iranian actions that "cannot go without consequences."

More recently in Germany, an official with the Protestant Church, Nikolaus Schneider, advocated Iran's exclusion from the tournament, saying it was unacceptable for Germany to welcome a team from a nation whose government advocates the destruction of Israel.

Calls outside of Germany

The latest, quickly escalating crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions, which many in the west would like to quell, has convinced some others in Germany and abroad that one strategy to get Iran to take notice of the international community's concerns would be to lock it out of soccer's biggest event.

Fußball, WM Qualifikation 2006, Iran gegen Saudi Arabien

Iran (in white) would like to prove their qualities on the pitch

To Germany's north, the small Danish Socialist People's Party, which holds 11 of 179 seats in parliament, has urged the country's foreign minister Per Stig Moeller to bring up the matter to his colleagues.

In the UK, Michael Ancram, a conservative parliamentarian, said he believed that preventing the country from taking part in the World Cup would "send a very clear signal" to Tehran that the international community will not tolerate its nuclear ambitions.

He suggested in an interview that World Cup expulsion would have a significant impact on public opinion in Iran and could persuade the government to curtail nuclear testing.

German government not for ban

But the German and British governments appear to be of a different opinion.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier this month that alternative sanctions, such as the exclusion of Iran from the World Cup this summer, would not be the appropriate means to compel President Ahmadinejad to negotiate with the international community.

Iran Präsident Mahmud Ahmadinedschad zu Israel

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's talk about Holocaust "myth" has outraged many

Germany's coalition of Christian and Social Democrats has not called for Iran to be banned from the World Cup.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has cautioned against the expulsion of Iran from the World Cup as punishment, saying he was "not certain" that such a sanction against Iran would be helpful.

FIFA not in hurry to exclude Iran

Shortly after the group drawings last month, Andreas Herren, a spokesman for the soccer's world governing body, iterated that his organization had no intentions to uninvited the Iranians.

"FIFA strictly separates sports from politics," he said then.

More recently, FIFA spokesman John Schumacher told BBC radio: "Fifa is a sporting organization and not a political one."

"Each side are representatives of their respective Football Associations and cannot be held responsible for views expressed by their own governments," he said.

Yet FIFA would by no means be treading new waters if it considered expelling the Asian participant from the competition.

FIFA Praesident Sepp Blatter

FIFA president Blatter isn't interested in punishing Iran's team because of its government

In 1992, the soccer European governing body UEFA shut out former Yugoslavia from participating in the European Cup in Sweden. FIFA also prevented what remained of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, from taking part in the qualifications for the 1994 World Cup.

Before those suspensions however, the UN Security Council obligated national governments not to allow Yugoslavian sports teams competing in international events. Without such explicit instructions from the UN, it seems unlikely that FIFA president Sepp Blatter will change his tune.

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