Iranian sports minister accuses 'Old Fox' UK of plot to corrupt national team at World Cup

Iranian sports minister accuses 'Old Fox' UK of plot to corrupt national team at World Cup
Iran's sports minister, Hamid Sajjadi, has accused the UK of conspiring against Iran's national football team by encouraging players to defect from matches during the 2022 World Cup.
2 min read
04 January, 2023
England beat Iran 6-2 during the tournament [source: Getty]

Iran’s sports minister has accused the UK of plotting the downfall of Iran’s national football team during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

Hamid Sajjadi told Iranian parliamentarians that the country’s enemies had conspired against Tehran’s football team to carry out "the height of sedition," reported the Guardian.  

Sajjadi claimed without evidence that the UK - which he dubbed the "Old Fox" - had secretly planned for Iran’s footballers to abandon matches during the group stages. 

But Tehran was able to foil this seditious plot, he alleged.

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"The Old Fox sought to make the players of the Iranian national team refugees, and efforts were made in this regard," semi-official Iranian news agency Mehr reported Sajjadi as saying.

"But it didn’t go anywhere," he added. 

Sajjadi offered to show evidence for his unsubstantiated claims in a "private session", The Guardian said

The sports minister’s comments have been seen as a failed attempt to prevent an MP’s vote of censure for the state of the national game. 

Iranian officials and media commonly refers to the UK by the "Old Fox" epithet.

Iran crashed out of the World Cup in the group stages, losing to England 6-2 and the US 1-0. 

Their time at the tournament was shrouded in controversy.

Tens of thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets since September 2022 to protest against the government’s draconian rules and repression of women. The protests were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody. 

Iran’s national team footballers chose not to sing their country’s national anthem during a World Cup match in an apparent effort to distance the team from their government.

During the parliamentary session, Sajjadi also claimed there were other "enemy attacks" during the World Cup tournament against "the national team and the country". 

The widespread anti-government protests have posed the greatest challenge to Iranian authorities since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.