Iranian football is in a dark period due to alleged mismanagement - will the upcoming IFF presidential elections change the state of play?
By Niloufar Momeni
The Iran Football Federation (IFF) presidency is arguably one of football's safe-haven jobs. Despite the endless love of the game among millions of passionate fans and disregarding the humiliating events over the last four years, if supported by the government, Iran’s top football official is there to stay.
But this time around, the black traces of the incumbent Ali Kafashian’s mismanagement off the pitch and Iran’s humiliating football on the pitch are too obvious that it makes little sense for the government to keep the old faces in charge.
At the time of writing, there are three candidates in the running for the top job; Kafashian, current IFF chief Aziz Mohammadi, and Hossein Gharib. In the last hours of Sunday, Jamshid Taghizadeh and Yunes Ghorbani, two of the candidates with previous sport management experience, resigned. Meanwhile, in an expected turn of events, IFF deputy and Kafashian’s long-time foe, Mehdi Taj, pulled out on Friday in favour of Mohammadi.
Taj and Mohammadi have one common philosophy and similar backgrounds. Both are hardcore conservatives, stemmed from their military background after revolution; they both value ideologies, professionalism, morals and a police-state in football.
The black traces of the incumbent Ali Kafashian’s mismanagement off the pitch and Iran’s humiliating football on the pitch are too obvious that it makes little sense for the government to keep the old faces in charge
These last minute change of hearts by three of the favoured candidates, leaves one man in particular in the media spotlight: Gharib, who is a former Esteghlal chairman known for his appointment and support of then Esteghlal coach Amir Ghalenoei.
During his two-term reign as director of the club, the team won a much desired league title. Despite the domestic championship, Gharib left shortly after, citing his “incapability in managing Esteghlal”. Ironically, he claims he is ready for the biggest challenge in Iranian football.
Considering Gharib has reportedly been nominated with the support of government officials, he is being tipped as the next Iranian football chief. Despite all that, it is possible that just like any other industry in Iran, the influential military takes charge of the country's top football job as well. The military commander and current league committee boss Mohammadi is determined to do just that.
The date of the election is set for March 5. The voters are a large group of 74 members consisting club owners, heads of the football association, some members of Parliament, the committee of the Ministry of Sport, and the chief of the Ministry of Sport. The voters also decide the new football boss’ team of 11 members.
At the end of the day, though, from the perspective of a passionate Iranian football fan, Kafashian, Gharib or Aziz Mohammadi pose no change good enough to erase the darkest era of Iranian football in the past four years
The format is that each candidate, if he aims for IFF deputy or lower ranks, needs at least five votes from the group of 74 members. If the candidate aims for IFF presidency, he needs at least 10 of the votes. One thing that has recently changed in IFF rules is that in this election, whoever is elected can choose his own deputy, which is a good change.
At the end of the day, though, from the perspective of a passionate Iranian football fan, Kafashian, Gharib or Aziz Mohammadi pose no change good enough to erase the darkest era of Iranian football in the past four years; which ironically Kafashian and Mohammadi carry a large blame for.
Chaotic national team coaching appointments, Iran’s dismal elimination from the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, causing the women national team’s Olympic elimination due to illegal head-cover modification are just a few examples of such incidents.
There's also Iran’s early exit at the 2011 Asian Cup, the men's football Olympic team’s repeated failure to qualify for the games, the reduced Asian Champions League spots because of poor league standards, losing Iran’s place at the AFC committee, corruption and match-fixing allegations, as well as a scandalous football league season after another year marred by proven fraudulent transfer market deals. These dark moments cannot be erased in the memories of so many, even with a new round of elections.