By Niloufar Momeni
Iranian football fans had to pinch themselves on Tuesday when they read the headline: “Kafashian is re-elected as Iran’s Football Federation (IFF) President”. It was rather surprising in a country - and also for a football federation where it is surrendered to turmoil, instability and constant change. Barely any football coach’s contract is extended as long as eight years, both for club or country, let alone for Iranian football’s highest ranking position.In all honesty, Kafashian did not have a glorious record from his first term to brag about; Chaotic national team coaching appointments, Iran's dismal elimination from the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, and causing Iran's womens' national team’s elimination due to illegal head cover modification were all unforgettable dark spots of his resume.
Then there was the counry's early exit at the 2011 Asian Cup, the Olympic team’s repeated failures to qualify for the 2008 and 2012 games, the reduced Asian Champions League spots because of poor league standards and losing Iran’s place at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Committee.
However, the fact that he was challenged by two unknown candidates, of whom one was highly supported by the government and the other backed by military, helped his cause to receive the majority of the Executive Committee’s vote of confidence, a majority vote that contained the message that “stability is better than change at any cost”, and that “politics has no place in football”. Besides, Iranian football elites can now enjoy a round of stability and more confident decisions by the re-elected football hierarchy, instead of trial and error decisions by new faces had they been chosen.
|"We have to learn lessons from past. The federation has made some mistakes in the last four years but we are looking forward to move into a better position"
- Ali Kafashian to reporters post-election
Strategically, Kafashian did two things right that immensely helped him cruise to victory: first, despite earlier pessimistic sentiments about his chances of re-election and government’s alleged pressure to make him opt out of the race, he vowed to stay on. Secondly, and more importantly, in the pre-election days, he decided to go vocal to the media and specifically revealed that “the government is influencing its power to make one of his rivals elected”. This gesture, in a complicated Iranian society, is considered an act of “bravery” and “strong will and guts”.
To his own surprise, his vocal strategies clicked with 47 Executive members, and against all odds Kafashian became the only IFF President re-elected for two consecutive terms.
Following his re-election, the victorious Kafashian emphasised on his second-term mandate of "improvement in clubs' finances and commercialisation" and vowed for "more independence for the Football Federation than before".
All this aside, the cash-strapped clubs and depressed Iranian football fans hope the victorious incumbent now makes the best out of the vote of confidence given to him to rescue Iranian football from further downfall. It has been a while since any investment or elite managerial appointment is made for the youth generation of Iran's Under-20 national team, U-17 national team, and football academy at club level.
In addition, with the recent approval of Fifa officials for women footballers of Muslim nations to play the game with their head covers (hijabs), it leaves no excuse for Iranian football officials to ignore the development of passionate women footballers of the country.
The victorious Kafashian emphasised on his second term mandate of "improvement in clubs’ finances and commercialisation" and vowed for "more independence for the Football Federation than before"
More so, there is over four years upon him to finalise the ever-incomplete stadium projects throughout the country; four years down the road, it may be too little too late for Iranian officials to convince the AFC of their professional football if there is only one standard stadium, the Azadi Arena, in the entire country. Despite land capacity four times the size of Japan, they are far less developed than the Islanders’ 22 professional football stadiums.
Not only that, for the IFF the most crucial year lie ahead for Iran's national football team, under the reign of well-known Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz, who needs more support ahead of the final stage of 2014 World Cup qualifiers and beyond. All eyes are on the fortunate football president, but can he seize upon his chance? We shall see.