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World Cup 2022: Iran should be replaced by Ukraine, says Shakthar Donetsk chief

Sergei Palkin calls on Iranians to be thrown out of tournament over drone sales to Russia
Iran's players celebrate after qualifying for the 2022 Qatar World Cup at the Azadi Sports Complex in the capital Tehran on 27 January 2022 (AFP)
Iran's players celebrate after qualifying for the 2022 Qatar World Cup at the Azadi Sports Complex in the capital Tehran on 27 January 2022 (AFP)

Iran should be banned from the World Cup and replaced with Ukraine due to its arming of Russia with drones, the CEO of Ukrainian team Shakhtar Donetsk has said.  

In a statement on Monday, Sergei Palkin, chief executive of one of Ukraine’s biggest football clubs, called on global football’s governing body Fifa to remove Iran. 

“While the Iranian leadership will have fun watching their national team play at the World Cup, Ukrainians will be killed by Iranian drones and Iranian missiles. Almost 250 such drones have already attacked peaceful cities of Ukraine,” he said. 

“Each of them was produced, delivered by the Iranian authorities, Iranian instructors and the military directly trained and managed the launches of drones that destroyed homes, museums, universities, offices, sports grounds and playgrounds, and most importantly, killed Ukrainians.”

Earlier this week, the UK government and the EU imposed sanctions on three Iranian generals and an arms firm over Russia’s use of Iranian drones to bomb Ukraine. 

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It came after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Iranian-made “kamikaze” suicide drones and missiles were “attacking all of Ukraine” - a claim rejected by Tehran. 

“Shakhtar… calls on Fifa and the entire international community to immediately ban Iran's national team from playing at the World Cup for the country's direct participation in terrorist attacks on Ukrainians,” Palkin said. 

“This will be a fair decision that should draw the attention of the whole world to a regime that kills its best people and helps kill Ukrainians.”

Shakhtar is participating in this year’s Uefa Champions League, playing its home games in the Polish capital Warsaw. The club has not played in Donetsk since 2014, due to Russian escalation in the Donbas region. 

In late September, Russian President Vladmir Putin unilaterally declared the annexation of Donetsk, in addition to Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. 

'Participation of terrorists'

Palkin said that Iran's place in the World Cup should be taken by Ukraine, “which proved that it is worthy of participation”, stating that “with unequal conditions with other national teams during the play-offs, they played with their heart.”

In June, Wales beat Ukraine 1-0 in a European play-off to claim one of the final spots at the tournament. 

Russia, who were also due to compete in the play-offs, were suspended from the World Cup after Fifa and Uefa announced in February that the national team and all Russian clubs were banned from football until further notice. 

“I urge everyone to join the pressure on the football bureaucracy. It is enough to repeat the mistakes of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, hiding behind the empty thesis about the apoliticality of sports,” Palkin added. 

“Facilitating the participation of terrorists in the World Cup is politics. It's time to put an end to such a policy.”

Middle East Eye has contacted Fifa for comment but not received a response at the time of publication. 

Iran will be participating in its seventh World Cup, and its fourth in succession. Its first match will be against England on 21 November, in a group which includes the United States and Wales. 

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