Iran team want to leave politics out of World Cup
RAVENSBURG, Germany, June 5: The Iranian team say they want no part in their country's row with the West over its nuclear ambitions.
Feelings over Iran are running high as European leaders have stopped short of banning President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from visiting the World Cup but have signalled he would face a frosty welcome.
Ahmadinejad has questioned whether the holocaust, during which the Nazis and their allies killed six million Jews, actually happened and has made inflammatory remarks about Israel in the past.
Ahmadinejad has left open whether he will go to the World Cup.
Denying the holocaust is a crime in Germany, punishable by up to five years in prison.
While such comments and the country's nuclear spat with the West keep leaders around the globe on their toes, Iranian players just want to get on with their sport.
''We almost don't talk about it. We sometimes make jokes about it but this is all business on the fringes that we do not care about,'' midfielder Ferydoon Zandi told reporters.
Kaiserlautern player Zandi has delighted Iranian fans by choosing to play for Iran rather than Germany, the country of his birth, a decision he says he made ''for the heart''.
Iran's dispute heated up on Sunday, when the country used oil as a weapon in its nuclear standoff with the West for the first time, saying that if the United States made a ''wrong move'' toward Iran, energy flows in the region would be endangered.
Washington accuses Tehran of seeking to develop atomic weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear power programme, a charge Tehran denies.
''We are sports people and we think there should be a big distance between sports and politics,'' midfielder Mehdi Mahdavikia said.
''Our goal is to get through to the second round. We have a tough group but we will give everything for that.'' The players' comments come after news agencies quoted Ahmedinejad as saying he was confident the team could bring glory to Iran as its nuclear scientists had done.
Iran are due to play a regional Lake Constance side today. They begin their World Cup campaign against Mexico in Nuremberg on June 11. Their other Group D opponents are Angola and Portugal.