Racism in Iran's Football Stadiums

Mr Joseph S. BlatterPresident, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)

tember 3rd, 2010

Dear Mr Blatter,
As a number of Azerbaijani and Iranian scholars, journalists, professionals and human rights activists, we would like to submit this letter to you as a formal complaint in regard to a series of blatant acts of racism that have been taking place in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s football stadiums against the Azerbaijani team of Tractor-Sazi (Tiraxtur) and its supporters-- and by a qualifying extension, against Iran’s more than twenty million Turkic citizens. We hope that you will recognize the urgency of this matter and will take necessary action as stipulated in FIFA’s anti-racist policies, particularly Article 26 pertaining to Safety Regulations and Article 58 pertaining to FIFA Disciplinary Code. The following constitutes the basis of our complaint and will provide you some crucial information regarding the above mentioned acts of racism as well as the context within which they have taken place.

Tiraxtur: The Azerbaijani Team
The Azerbaijani football team of Tractor-Sazi, better known as Tiraxtur, was founded in 1970 through the sponsorship of famous Tabriz Tractor-making industrial unit. From the very beginning Tiraxtur demonstrated exceptional sportsmanship and professionalism that placed it amongst the most favoured football teams in Iran. In a short period of time, the team was able to win the hearts and minds of the people of Tabriz, and when in recent months it excelled to the level of Iran’s super league teams, Tiraxtur captivated the entire Azerbaijan and the vast majority of Iran’s Turkic community. As such, tens of thousands of enthusiastic Tiraxtur supporters fill up the stadiums whenever there is a match between Tiraxtur and other teams. Understandably, the Tiraxtur supporters come from all over Azerbaijan and other Turkic populated areas of Iran who speak Azeri-Turkic as their natural mother language. Consequently, Azeri-Turkic becomes the dominant language of support and encouragement in these stadiums. It is the language that most intimately expresses Tiraxtur supporters’ feelings of joy, happiness and spiritual elation. And this poses a major challenge to the practice of official racism in Iran where Farsi (the language of Persian ethnic group) is the hegemonic official and national language of an extremely diverse population. The use of Azeri-Turkic in stadiums challenges the official status of Farsi as the dominant language of the country. As an officially unacknowledged and banned language, the Azeri-Turkic destabilizes Iran’s entire racist establishment which functions on a variety of official, cultural, collective and individual levels. The use of Azerbaijan’s stigmatized ‘unofficial’ language in football stadiums defies Persian racism and invokes retaliatory responses from both the government and members of the dominant Persian group. This begs several questions: Is it contrary to FIFA procedures to support one’s team in one’s own natural mother language? Where does it say that the ban imposed on Azeri language in schools and government offices ought to be extended to football stadiums? Shouldn’t FIFA take a transparent stance against this despicable act of linguistic racism?

Racism against Tiraxtur and Its Supporters

Azerbaijani Turks have been targets of racist attacks in Iranian cities of Boushehr, Isfahan, Kerman, and in the capital city of Tehran during the football matches that took place in these cities over the past few months. In the football stadiums of these major cities, racist slogans were shouted incessantly against Tiraxtur and its Azerbaijani/Turkic supporters. These slogans depicted Azerbaijani-Turks as subhuman “donkeys” who were not equal to Persians but constituted a category below ‘normal human beings.’ In these racist attacks, the use of the term ‘donkey’ serves to dehumanize the Azerbaijani-Turks, violate their dignity and break their spirit.

A most appalling display of racism was manifested throughout the match between TiraxturPirouzi (formerly Persepolis) that was played at Tehran Azadi stadium on July 27th, 2010. The official Iranian state television (Chanel 3) aired the entire show for about an hour. Among the racist slogans that were chanted against Azerbaijanis the following could be heard clearly and powerfully: and

إشک برو گم شو!
Donkey, get lost!
إشک برو گم شو!
Donkey, get lost!
And when the Tiraxtur supporters fell silent after hearing this horrifying racist slogan, the Pirouzi/Persepolis supporters chanted:
صدای عرعر نمی آد!
There is no braying from the donkeys!
ترکه صداش در نمی آد!
The Turkish donkeys are silent!

In a rhythmic and unusually well-organized manner, half of the Pirouzi/Persepolis supporters from one end of the stadium chanted: “There is no braying from the donkeys!” To this, the other half from the other end of the stadium replied: “The Turkish donkeys are silent!” And the whole event was carefully aired on the Iranian state television! (Videos and other supporting documents are easily accessible online and will be made available upon request).

Was this highly harmonious and well-ordered display of racism a whimsical individualistic and collective behaviour, or was it planned and orchestrated by Iran’s football authorities and the government of Mr Ahmadinejad? Ever since the rule of Pahlavis from the mid-1920s, the degrading and dehumanizing analogy with “donkey” has been used by successive Iranian governments and through the hegemonic discourse to silence, humiliate and marginalize Iran’s Azerbaijani and Turkic population. It is high time that this blatant act of racism and shameful bigotry is condemned by FIFA and other international bodies.

In various UN documents and numerous academic sources racism is defined as a negative, dehumanizing, and oppressive view, attitude, behaviour and action towards members of another group. Ranging from a variety of social, scientific, biological, institutional, linguistic and cultural kinds, contemporary racism(s) are a conflation of ethnicity, class, language, religion and broad cultural and geographical concerns and definitions. Racism is a situation in which individuals, groups, communities, or institutions exercise abusive power over other human beings based on their real or perceived physiological differences (e.g., skin color, hair texture, facial features, racial heritage); cultural differences ( e.g., language, customs, behaviour, clothing and mode of dress, eating habits); ideological differences (e.g., religion, political affiliation, belief); geographical differences or differences in the place of birth (e.g., Asian, African, Latino, Irish, Afghani), and so on and so forth. Clearly, the Iranian government and many members of the dominant group assume the Persian ethnic/racial group to be ‘superior’ to Azerbaijani-Turks and others on the basis of their ethnicity, language, ancestry and culture. Based on such perceived notions of ‘superiority,’ they seek to humiliate and suppress the Azerbaijani language, identity, culture and history. While this aggressive racism has been going on at various governmental, institutional and educational levels for over 80 years, recently it has begun showing its ugly face in football stadiums. And that is why FIFA has an institutional as well as a moral responsibility to take a stance against this racism.

Urgent Action Needed

Based on FIFA procedure, Tiraxtur and its supporters have submitted formal complaints to Iran’s Football Federation. However, this organization has not taken any stance against blatant racism committed in football stadiums. Far from it, Iran’s Football Federation has punished the victim. Tiraxtur was penalized to play two games in the absence of its passionate supporters, whereas the host team (Pirouzi/Persepolis) was asked to play only one game without supporters! Moreover, Tiraxtur’s punishment was extended to another Azerbaijani team, Sahrdari, which was made to play one game in Tabriz without its Azerbaijani supporters. In effect, the Azerbaijanis were prevented from supporting their teams in three matches that took place in their hometown of Tabriz.

Dear Mr Blatter,

In a recent document issued on Friday, August 27, 2010, U.N. urged Iran to tackle racism against such non-Persian ethnic groups as Azeri-Turks, Kurds, Baluchs, Arabs, Turkmens as well as religious minorities such as the Baha’is. We urge FIFA to join the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and condemn all manifestations of Persian racism taking place in Iran’s football stadiums. FIFA’s reputation as an anti-racist international body is quite well-known. We expect FIFA to take a proactive anti-racist stance against Persian racism, and the government of infamous Holocaust denier, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that wholeheartedly supports this racism.

(Names are arranged in alphabetical order)
Sedigheh Adalati Ph. D.; Sociologist, Hamburg- Germany.

Mohammad Reza Al Ardabili: Managing Editor, Achiq söz.org, Stockholm- Sweden.

Ahmad Alizadeh Chairperson, South Azerbaijan Academic Society.

Hossein Anvar Hagigi: National rights activist, Köln- Germany.

Alireza Ardabili, Journalist & Publisher, Stockholm- Sweden.

Soudabeh Ardavan, Artist & human rights activist, Sweden.

Dr. Alireza Asgharzadeh Sociologist, York University, Toronto- Canada.

Teymor Avshar, National rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden.

Mehemmed Azadgar, Writer & National rights activist, Köln- Germany.

Said Azizi, National rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden.

Yousef Azizi Banitorof, Member of Iranian Writers Association; Human rights activist, London- England.

Professor Reza Baraheni
Iranian novelist and poet; A former president of PEN Canada and retired professor of Comparative Literature, Toronto- Canada

Salamat Dashti National rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden

Naser Ebyat, Artist & cultural activist

Rahima Gadirova, Human rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden

Dr. Ajub Ghane, National rights activist, Hovover- Germany

Dr.Ali Gharajelou, Political Scientist, national rights activist, Toronto- Canada

Seyfeddin Hatamlooy, Writer & publisher, Bonn- Germany

Sadegh Isabeyli, National rights activist, Finland

Alirza Javanbakht
Writer & journalist, human rights activist, former political prisoner, Vancouver- Canada

Mojgan Javid, Human rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden

Khalil Kaabi Writer, Civil rights activist

Saleh Kamrani, Human Rights Attorney, Sweden

Dr. Elham Latifi, Women’s rights activist

Dr. Akbar Mahmudi, Psychotherapist & writer, Essen- Germany

Farid Marshidi, Writer & civil rights activist

Leila Mojtahedi
Journalist; President of the Cultural and Linguistic
Association of Iranian Azerbaijan in Canada, Toronto- Canada

Ali Mullazadeh, National rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden

Bahman Nabizade Civil rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden

Kadije Nazari Civil rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden

Ahmad Obali
Journalist, National rights activist; Founder & Director of South Azerbaijan Television, Chicago- USA

Boyuk Rasulvand, Human rights activist

Dr. Mashalla Razmi
Writer & journalist, Paris- France

Professor Gholam Reza Sabri-Tabrizi
Edinburgh University, London- UK

Dr. Zia Sadr al Ashrafi
Sociologist; Azerbaijani member of Congress of Nationalities for Federal Iran, Ottawa- Canada

Sattar Sevigin President of Azerbaijani Federation in Sweden, Stockholm- Sweden

Ahmad Shahabi Civil rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden

Dr. Akbar Shakiba Civil rights activist, Köln- Germany

Asgar Shakiba Civil rights activist, Köln- Germany

Yunes Shameli, Writer & Civil rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden

Sadiq Shukurov Civil rights activist, Stockholm- Sweden

Dr. Hamdollah Soleymani MD, Hanover- Germany

Hedayet Soltanzadeh Lawyer, writer & Civil rights activist, London- England

Dr. Asad Taghizadeh
MD, Civil rights activist, Oslo- Norway