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Row after Iranian-born German refuses to play in Israel

9 October 2007 13:41

BERLIN (AFP) - Germany's main Jewish group has criticised the decision of an Iranian-born German international footballer to refuse to play in Israel for political reasons.

Ashkan Dejagah, 21, said he feared his family in Iran would be a target for reprisals if he played against Israel in an under-21 international match in Tel Aviv on October 12.

The German Football Federation (DFB) said it had "accepted" the "personal" reasons given by Dejagah, a talented striker who is believed to have a good chance of making the step up to the senior German squad.

The leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Charlotte Knobloch, said she hoped Dejagah would now be banned from German national teams.

Dejagah is "behaving in an extremely unsporting way because sporting contests are supposed to be peaceful, carried out with respect and overcome political tensions," Knobloch said.

"In view of Germany's historical responsibility to maintain friendly relations with the Jewish state, it would be a great affront to tolerate this anti-Israeli behaviour in silence.

"I therefore expect the DFB to ban the player from the German national side."

DFB president Theo Zwanziger said the under-21 team's coach, Dieter Eilts, had told him he had accepted Dejagah's "personal reasons" for refusing to make the trip to Israel.

But he said the basic position of the German federation was clear: "We cannot accept that players refuse to play in a match because of their view of the world or their religion."

Zwanziger said in Tuesday's edition of Bild newspaper: "Whoever wears our (German national) shirt must identify with the country and its basic values.

"Otherwise one must do without them."

Dejagah told the BZ tabloid: "I have more Iranian than German blood in my veins, that must be accepted.

"I am doing this out of respect. At the end of the day, my parents are Iranians."

Iran does not recognise Israel's right to exist and Iranian President President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the country to be wiped off the map.

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