A deal to lift international sanctions on Iran will transform football in the country, opening the door to foreign investment, international transfers and the release of World Cup prize money, according to the boss of one of the country's leading clubs.

Iran and six major world powers reached an agreement this week imposing limits on Tehran's nuclear programme in return for the unblocking of more than $100bn of Iranian assets frozen abroad.

Mansour Ghanbarzadeh, chief executive of club side Naft Tehran, told Reuters in an interview that some of that money belonged to the Iranian Football Federation.

Iran's deal contents

"Everybody claims that sport should be away from politics but in reality football in Iran was under sanction," Ghanbarzadeh said.

"We have not received anything in the past two years from FIFA. One figure was about $10m subsidy for qualifying for the World Cup. The only reason for that was the banking sanction."

The prize money set by FIFA for last year's World Cup in Brazil was $8m, plus $1.5m in preparation costs, for teams that reached the tournament, as Iran did, but failed to go beyond the group stage.

Ghanbarzadeh, a former executive committee member of the Iranian Football Federation and now a standard member, said more millions were owed from the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, while subsidies from the Asian Football Confederation, the regional body, never made it through.

He added that importing basic requirements like match balls had been problematic, while players and federation members were often required to carry cash in and out of the country to pay for training camps.

Best in Asia

Despite the troubles, Iranian football has managed to hold its own on the world and regional stage.

The men's national team is currently Asia's best side in the FIFA rankings, at 38th.

Three-time Asian champions, the Iranians won plaudits at the World Cup where they drew with African champions Nigeria and came within a minute of holding eventual runners-up Argentina.

Ghanbarzadeh's club Naft, who just missed out on the Iranian title in May, are through to the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League, alongside wealthy Emirati, Chinese and Qatari clubs, despite being unable to pay transfer fees for foreign stars like their regional rivals.

"Despite all the sanctions, sport could move on and we were very active in Asian competition and FIFA competition, World Cup and Champions League," Ghanbarzadeh said.

"We hope we can be more successful and it can re-energise football in future."

Source: Reuters