Iran protests: who is football legend Ali Daei and why has family been ordered off flight?

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Former international striker Ali Daei says his family were prevented from leaving Iran amid critical comments he made against the country

Record-breaking Iranian footballer Ali Daei, who criticised the authorities’ crackdown on anti-regime protesters, has said his wife and daughter were prevented from leaving the country.

According to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA), the 53-year-old said his family had flown on a Mahan Air flight, taking off from the Iranian capital’s Imam Khomeini Airport on Monday (26 December), headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. However, the plane was rerouted and made to land on Iran’s Kish Island in the Gulf, where “Ali Daei’s wife and daughter got off the plane”, the state news agency IRNA said.

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IRNA also stated that the judiciary had prevented them from leaving due to alleged support for “anti-revolutionary groups and rioters, and calling for a strike”.

Here’s everything you need to know about Ali Daei:

Who is Ali Daei and how many goals did he score?

Ali Daei is one of Iran’s most famous footballers and a former German Bundesliga striker whose 109 goals at the international level were long unsurpassed until Cristiano Ronaldo overtook him. He was also the former captain of the Iranian national team between 2000 and 2006. His glittering career included being involved in Iran’s 2-1 World Cup victory against the US in 1998. Daei also became the first Asian player ever to feature in a UEFA Champions League match.

Ali Daei of Iran during The 2006 Fifa World Cup Asian Qualifiers match between Japan and Iran at The International Stadium (Getty Images)Ali Daei of Iran during The 2006 Fifa World Cup Asian Qualifiers match between Japan and Iran at The International Stadium (Getty Images)
Ali Daei of Iran during The 2006 Fifa World Cup Asian Qualifiers match between Japan and Iran at The International Stadium (Getty Images) | Getty Images

Daei was born on 21 March, 1969, in Ardabil, Iran. In 1998, he began his football career at the age of 19 with his hometown club Esteghlal Ardabil. He went in to European football, playing for Bayern Munich. Following his retirement, Daei served as a member of the FIFA Football Committee between 2007 and 2013. In 2014, he was inducted into the Asian Football Hall of Fame.

What did he say about Iran?

Daei has expressed support for the protest movement that has rocked Iran since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest in Tehran by morality police for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women. In regards to his family, he said he was trying to arrange his family’s return to Tehran.

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Protesters demonstrate in Tehran following the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's so-called 'morality police' (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)Protesters demonstrate in Tehran following the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's so-called 'morality police' (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters demonstrate in Tehran following the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of Iran's so-called 'morality police' (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)

Earlier in December, the ex-footballer’s jewellery shop and restaurant in Tehran’s fashionable north were sealed, according to IRNA. In a statement posted on Daei’s Instagram account on 27 November in response to the protests, he said: “Hoping for the unconditional release of the prisoners these days.

“In recent months and days, I have witnessed countless threats against me and my family from some institutions, media and unknown people who consider themselves professors, philosophers and sociologists.”

Speaking about the incident in regards to his family, he told ISNA, adding: “They returned on a Mahan Air flight from Dubai and landed in Kish and took my daughter and wife off the flight, but they were not arrested.

“Had they been banned [from leaving], the passport police system should have shown it: No one has given me an answer about this. I really don’t know what is the reason for these things,” he said.

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