EU lawmakers seek to ban Iran from World Cup
BRUSSELS, May 10 European Union lawmakers will urge political leaders tomorrow to back a letter to FIFA calling for Iran to be banned from the World Cup finals because of controversial remarks by the country's president.
Members of the European Parliament will send a letter to the head of soccer's world governing body, Sepp Blatter, and EU leaders citing statements from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the destruction of Israel and denying the Holocaust, as well as Iran's refusal to renounce its nuclear activity.
It was not clear how many MEPs would sign and FIFA has said it has no intention of banning Iran's team, which kicks off its campaign against Mexico on June 11 in Nuremberg, a city associated with Nazism.
''We have cross-party support for this and we will now go back to our governments and opposition parties and send them a letter, asking them to back our call,'' British Conservative Party MEP Chris Heaton-Harris told Reuters.
''We believe a precedent has been set in the past, in particular in cricket and rugby with South Africa and FIFA needs to do the same.'' Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be ''wiped off the map'' and has referred to the Holocaust as a myth. Denying the murder of 6 million Jews by the Nazis is a crime in Germany punishable by up to five years in prison.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the remarks were unacceptable and likened Iran's nuclear plans to the threat posed by the Nazis. However, she said she would not seek to ban Iran from the finals, which kick off in her country on June 9.
Iran faces possible U.N. sanctions unless it halts its nuclear activities, which the EU and the United States believe are a cover for developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear programme is a civilian one to generate electricity.
Heaton-Harris, a former referee and Secretary of the Parliament's Sports Intergroup, said the letter to Blatter urged that Bahrain, who finished runners-up to Iran in qualification, be given the Iranians' berth.
''This would also send the message that we are not against Muslims, but just against Iran and its policies,'' the British politician said.