Football Fans Clash in Iran, 144 Injured

Violent clashes left 144 football fans injured after a semi-final Premier League match between Persepolis F.C. and Sepahan S.C. at Isfahan’s Naghsh-e- Jahan Stadium on May 30, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported, citing Ghafoor Rastin, the head of Isfahan’s accident and emergency services.

“Several fights broke out before, during and after the match between Persepolis and Sepahan fans at Naghsh-e Jahan Stadium,” Mr. Rastin said. “Emergency services treated 116 people at the stadium and transferred another 28 with more serious injuries to local hospitals. Four members of the accident and emergency services suffered superficial injuries, and two ambulances sustained minor damages.”

“Unruly fans set fire to several cars and damaged a few buildings. Police have arrested 25 people so far,” Isfahan Police Chief Brigadier General Mehdi Masoumbeigi said during a press conference on May 30. “The match had started with no incident. However, a dispute between Persepolis and Sepahan players during the extra time triggered several fights in the stands.”

Tensions reached boiling point after Sepahan missed a crucial penalty earlier in the game. A heated argument among players in the overtime emptied both benches and brought their respective coaching teams on to the pitch. The stadium security swiftly ended the dispute and restored calm, but not before being attacked by some fans in the stands. Fighting escalated among the spectators and continued outside the stadium after a highly controversial 1-0 win by Persepolis in overtime.

People on social media have posted video clips and photographs of fighting inside and outside the stadium.

Footage posted by the pro-Persepolis site @piroozinews shows a car allegedly torched by Sepahan fans outside the stadium. A voice off-camera says: “The car belongs to reporters from Tehran who had traveled to Isfahan to cover the football match. Their only crime was to have a Tehran license plate on their car.”

A tweet by the same site reads: “The reporters who had traveled from Tehran to Isfahan to cover the semi-final football match had their car burned by Sepahan fans.”

Another footage posted by @farhadeto shows a young boy whose head and eye are bandaged lying on a stretcher inside an ambulance. The accompanying tweet says: “Does a championship cup worth this child’s eye?” 

A photograph posted by @miladkhmz shows a young man with several scars on his back which he allegedly sustained during clashes between fans at the match between Persepolis and Sepahan. 

Meanwhile, Amir Ghalenoei, the head coach of Sepahan has said that the final score of the match was “engineered,” state-aligned Tasnim News Agency reported.

“Sepahan players showed great character. Others will write about this game later. Many people might not have the courage to talk about ‘engineered games and championships.’ However, the truth will eventually come out. People will be the ultimate judge,” Mr. Ghalenoei said at a news conference after the match.

Saeed Fattahi, the director of Iran Football League Organization, has dismissed Ghalenoei’s claims, semi-official Fars news agency reported. 

“Would they still talk about an ‘engineered win’ if they had scored the penalty?” Mr. Fattahi asked. “The media should help dispel these baseless allegations. What engineering? Crowds in sports stadiums do not differ from society at large. The media covers sports events. The current approach will not ensure the safety and security of fans at football games. All state institutions should work together to solve these problems.”

Fattahi added: “Some fans reportedly targeted cars with Tehran license plates. The stadium’s insurance covers the damages. Authorities in Isfahan will investigate these incidents. Such violent clashes should not happen. Many fans ran away after fights broke out, fearing for their safety. By contrast, football fans in most other countries stay until the end of a match to support their teams.” 

[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]