Gold coin trafficking in systematic corruption in Iranian football
Farzad Youshanlou
July 8, 2024

The recent arrest of Khodadad Afsharian, which made headlines on Iranian news sites last month, came as no surprise. The former head of the Iranian Football Referees Committee, along with Soheil Mehdi and Fariborz Mahmoudzadeh, both of whom are league officials, were detained for allegedly accepting bribes from Mes Rafsanjan Football Club. The scandal has implicated numerous referees and football teams.

In April 2024, following reports of financial corruption at Mes Rafsanjan, the Iranian Football Federation announced the end of Afsharian and Mehdi’s tenures without naming them explicitly. It was later revealed that the club had bribed the Federation with 400 gold coins. Afsharian confessed to at least 15 instances of match-fixing and disclosed the involvement of referees in manipulating match outcomes in Iranian football leagues.


Mehdi Taj, the president of the Iranian Football Federation, already implicated in at least two corruption cases involving Foolad Mobarakeh and the contract with Belgian coach Marc Wilmots that cost Iran 8.3 millions euros, initially tried to downplay the scandal, claiming it involved only 25 gold coins. However, as more details emerged, the scandal’s scope expanded significantly.

On Iranian social media, fans of Sepahan FC, Persepolis, and Esteghlal Tehran accuse each other of benefiting from match-fixing, sharing instances of referees directly influencing match results as evidence.

An Iranian fan (Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto/Shutterstock)

Rasoul Korbekandi, a coach in the Iranian Premier League, expressed his dismay at the deep-rooted corruption in Iranian football in an interview. “If you recall, when I was with Saba, a referee awarded a penalty to the opposing team in stoppage time, resulting in a 2-2 draw. I said then that our football is corrupt, and what happened? I was fined 3 million toman and suspended for two matches,” he lamented.

Nader Faryadshiran, a goalkeeper from the 1980s, also weighed in, stating, “Everyone now expects action against this massive corruption in Iranian football, not a cover-up like in the Foolad Mobarakeh case, where Mehdi Taj was also implicated. When Iranian referees engage in such collusion, it leads to situations where Mes Rafsanjan FC bought between 700 to 800 gold coins, equivalent to $200,000, without leaving a trace of bank transactions. There have even been bribes in cash and cryptocurrency. The core issue is that football brokers contact players with a chance of being invited to the national team camp, promising them a spot in exchange for signing a contract, which includes multi-billion toman options that are distributed among several people after the player is invited.”

For the past two years, the Federation has avoided installing VAR cameras. With the widespread revelations of match-fixing, many now see this reluctance as linked to the corruption in Iranian football.

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