October 15, 2019
Nobody supports the regime in Iran, says a renowned German coach who managed a major Iranian soccer club, Esteqlal (Esteghlal) for almost two years.
Speaking exclusively to the German t-online.de website, the long-time Bundesliga coach Winfried “Winnie” Schäfer, has also insisted that everyone he met was scared [in Iran], although It’s hard to imagine it if one did not live in Iran.
“In two years, I never met a person who was in favor of the regime – and I speak of people from very different backgrounds. Industrialists. Academics. Football players. Taxi drivers and even ministers,” 69-year-old Schäfer asserted, adding, “The people I’ve met, no matter young or old, are not at all in line with the [Islamic] regime.”
Meanwhile, Schäfer has insisted that the Iranian people support allowing women to enter sports arenas and freely watch male contests.
The interview was published by t-online.de on October 9, commemorating a 29-year-old Iranian woman, Sahar Khodayari, who died after self-immolation.
Khodayari, a fan of Tehran’s Estqelal FC, the side coached by Schäfer for nearly two years, was later dubbed as the “Blue Girl” after the color of her favorite team.
The Blue Girl had tried to enter Tehran’s Azadi stadium last March to watch an Esteqlal’s match when she was arrested. She was released later, but in early September, she was told of an impending jail term. She set herself on fire outside a court in Tehran and died a few days later in the hospital, creating international outrage.
The tragic death of the Blue Girl forced the international football federation (FIFA) to set a deadline for the Islamic Republic to either let women freely watch male soccer games or be banned from international events.
The Islamic Republic relented and after four decades, allowed Iranian women again to watch Iran’s World Cup qualifying match against Cambodia in Tehran.
Nevertheless, Schäfer believes that FIFA’s reaction to the tragic death of the Blue Girl had not been enough, FIFA should have issued “A clear ultimatum.” FIFA should have said equality for women or exclusion “from the international gaming operation. No compromise”, Schäfer said.
According to him, soccer has been politicized in Iran.
“Football is highly political [in Iran], on the one hand, and some clubs embody political positions or ethnic minorities, on the other. Football matches have, for many years, been the only way to gather and protest in public. Take my ex-club, Esteghlal. The club, founded by the Shah, symbolizes the good old days. Millions of fans love Esteghlal because the club is a symbol of another Iran,” Schäfer asserted.