There have been calls from some German politicians for the team to be excluded as punishment for remarks made by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust.


President Ahmadinejad provoked global outrage earlier this week when called the Holocaust a "myth" that Europeans used as a pretext for carving out a Jewish state in the heart of the Muslim world.


But Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president, refused to let the organisation be drawn into any political wrangling.

 

Speaking at the World Club Championship in Tokyo on Friday, Blatter said: "We're  not going to enter into any political declarations. We in football, if we entered into such discussions, then it would be against our statutes. We are not in politics."


Ahmadinejad's comments were denounced in Germany, which is sensitive to its Nazi past. Hitler's Nazi regime was responsible for the deaths of six million Jews in the Holocaust.


The calls to banish Iran from the event in Germany came mostly from the opposition Greens party, although they had been supported by parts of the media and members of the country's ruling coalition.

 

Ahmadinejad's comments have
drawn international condemnation


Angelika Beer, a Green member of the European Parliament, said: "A country with such a president, who is driving the country into isolation, has nothing to do at the World Cup."

 
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, another Green MEP, and ARD, one of Germany's two public television networks, argued that excluding Iran would start a "serious debate" in that country.

Furio Colombo, an Italian columnist, said in Thursday's Corriere della Sera daily that he supported banning Iran.


Colombo
said: "It would be necessary to explain that the exclusion is not against the team but against the president."


Football crazy

Earlier this week, Hamid Reza Asefi, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said: "It is a childish attitude to follow Zionist propaganda aimed at depriving the Iranian football team of its place on the pretext that Iran mixed up sports with politics."


Iran
is a football-mad nation. International games in the Azadi stadium in Tehran regularly attract crowds of 100,000. Many of the team's leading players ply their trade in Germany in the Bundesliga, such as Mehdi Makhdavikia, of SV Hamburg, and Ali Karimi, of Bayern Munich.


Iran
has been drawn to play Mexico, Portugal and Angola in Group D next June. However, in a sign that countries are increasingly wary of safety issues in Iran, the national federation has struggled to arrange friendly matches in preparation for the tournament.

Romania
recently withdrew from a fixture, but the Romanian federation denied that this was linked to earlier remarks made by President Ahmadinejad suggesting that Israel should be "wiped from the map".

Iran will be one of 32 teams vying
for glory in Germany next year


The former Yugoslavia was the last team banned from a major tournament when it was expelled from the 1992 European championships by United Nations Security Council sanctions.

Coincidentally, a former Yugoslav football figure now coaches Iran. Branko Ivankovic, a Croatian, said that "a time to make friends" is the official World Cup motto.


"The best thing about sport is that it is completely apart from politics," Ivankovic said. "FIFA's official position has always been to ban any mixing of sports and politics."