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Iran's tattoo taboo hounds footballer Ashkan Dejagah


2018 FIFA WM Guppe B Marokko 0 - 1 Iran

A former Bundesliga player is in hot water in Iran because of photos on his Instagram account. They depict some of Ashkan Dejagah's tattoos and also his wife not wearing a headscarf.

German-Iranian footballer Ashkan Dejagah has been summoned to the Ethics Committee of Iran's Football Federation.

Dejagah, captain of the Iranian national team who just moved to play for Tractor Sazi Tabriz in Iran, is under pressure for showing his tattoos in public and because of photos of his wife on Instagram in which she is not wearing the hijab headscarf that's mandatory in Iran. In one of the photos, she is giving her husband a kiss on the cheek; in another, her forearms are exposed. 

Posts by the popular footballer, recently voted Iran's best ever left midfielder in an online poll, tend to reach a large audience. These were no exception. The ethics committee is demanding that Dejagah explain himself. 

Read more:  Iranian women hope 2018 World Cup is turning point for stadium ban

The 32-year-old has extensive sleeve tattoos on both arms, but had made some effort to hide them in his earlier appearances for Iran's national team. Players in Iran, many of whom have tattoos, regularly take steps to cover them up — wearing long sleeves whatever the weather or using body tape.

Dejagah is playing under Welsh manager and Liverpool legend John Toshack in Iran

Dejagah posted one image clearly displaying his arms on Wednesday, writing an accompanying text in English. In it, he talks about an international journalist asking him if he had moved to the Iranian league "just for relaxing." Dejagah says how this hurts him personally, and shows a lack of respect for Iranian football, the league and the FA on the journalist's part.

"So what is now more disrespectful? That I'm playing just football where the people can see my tattoos?" he asks. 

However, Dejagah goes on to say "one thing I learned from my parents in young age is to respect anybody and any rules and I will also do it now! ... And please let me now focus on my job, I'm only here to play football." He also posted a fresh set of photos of his wife, wishing her a happy birthday.

The footballer was raised in Germany after his family migrated while he was a young infant. He became European champion with the under-21 Germany team, but opted to play for Iran once it became clear a senior Germany call-up might never come.  

'Unprofessional' practice for role models

Tattoos are extremely popular among footballers around the world at the moment, with a plethora of the game's top stars sporting a variety of designs, written messages and in some cases even pictures of their loved ones carved into their flesh.

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
A collector of titles and tattoos

Until he became a father, the lower arms of Germany midfielder Toni Kroos were tattoo-free zones. But that changed for the Real Madrid star with the births of Leon and Amelie. He has Leon's face – along with his name and birth date on his left arm, while Amelie's name and birthday is on his right – just in case he ever forgets the names of his children…

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
Loved ones under the skin

David Beckham also has those nearest and dearest to him under his skin. The former England, Manchester United and Los Angeles Galaxy star has the names of his children as well as a portrait of his wife Victoria tattooed on his body. He also has tattoos of Jesus and angels, as well as a quotation from the bible: "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." Isn't that sweet!

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
Social conscience

Three years ago then-Paris Saint-Germain striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic complimented his real tattoos with the names of 50 starving people, representative for the 805 million undernourished people on the planet. The Swedish star took off his jersey to reveal the artwork after scoring a goal. He was rewarded with the yellow card.

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
Room for another World Cup

Apart from long passages of text, Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng's tattoos include symbols from the world of football. He has a tattoo of the official Champions League ball on his right elbow, and after Germany won the World Cup in 2014, he had the trophy tattooed on his calf. There is, however, still room for the 2018 World Cup…

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
A reminder of who he is

Borussia Dortmund's oft-injured star Marco Reus is well-loved but doesn't feel the need to display it in tattoo form. Unlike other footballers, he chooses not to walk around with the names and/or images of his mother, wife or children tattooed all over his body. He simply has his own name and date of birth on his lower left arm.

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
Below the belt

We all know how daring Barcelona's star striker Lionel Messi can be with the ball at his feet, but what is not as well documented is that he can be the same way when it comes to his choice of tattoos. The diminutive Argentine has gone with a red-lips tattoo – just below the belt.

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
A black stocking

Before that, Messi caused a stir on social media with his stocking tattoo. Last year he had his left lower leg colored almost completely black to hide previous tattoos, which had evidently fallen out of favor.

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
Baptismal verse

Cologne goalkeeper Timo Horn likes his tattoos big and with a religious theme. This one, which features his baptismal verse, was done by his favorite tattoo artist, Oscar Boge, who has been known to travel great distances to work on his many customers from the footballing world – during the little downtime they have in the sport's packed calendar.

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
There's no improving on perfection...

Suntan lotion, expensive skin creams and expensive perfume from his own collection are all that Cristiano Ronaldo allows on his skin. The Real Madrid and Portugal superstar takes off his shirt to reveal his six-pack on every possible occasion.

Tattoos: A status symbol among footballers
The artist of choice

This is the man whom more and more players from the Bundesliga and abroad are getting to do their tattoos. Oscar "Da Vinci" Boge (right) says he collects footballers like some footballers collect trophies. Here he is seen with one of his more prominent customers, Germany and Manchester City attacker Leroy Sane .

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The Ethics Committee of Iran's Football Federation issues repeated warnings to players, describing having a tattoo as unprofessional. Iranian authorities' sensitivity is heightened for footballers, because football is one of the most popular sports on Iranian TV — with a particularly high following among families.

Read more:  FIFA World Cup: Nike refuses to provide shoes to Iranian team

'Symbols of Westernization' or works of art?

Iran considers athletes to be role models responsible for promoting "Islamic values" to the younger generation. Iranian state media often refers to tattoos as a symbol of "Westernization" or part of a Western "cultural invasion" of Islamic society. 

Civil servants in Iran have also been banned from getting tattoos; if they already have them, they are encouraged to hide them while at work.

The practice is being discouraged by some conservative families but opinion is by no means unanimous. Many Iranians, especially younger ones, consider it their right to do as they will with their bodies. Some also call tattoos fashionable; others argue they can be works of art. 

A great many star footballers have prominent tattoos, Lionel Messi included

From larger cities in Iran, reports have emerged of the country's "moral police" (an arm of the police force interested only in crimes against Islamic norms, such as failing to wear a headscarf) stopping and questioning people with visible tattoos.

Read more:  In Iran, football, religion and politics often overlap

Are tattoos illegal in Iran? 

"There is no rule of law against getting tattoos in Iran," said Mohammad Nasl, an Iranian criminologist to the Iranian Newspaper Shahrvand. However, while there's no explicit law about tattoos, he acknowledged that other laws were open to interpretation and could be deemed to include tattoos.

One state media outlet with close ties to Iran's judiciary, Mizan News Agency, wrote a recent article claiming that getting a tattoo was considered an "immoral act and inappropriate in Iranian society," albeit adding that "it is not subjected to any punishment and crime in the book of laws." 

Despite this fact, Dejagah will soon have to answer for his ink — and perhaps even his wife's attire or her kissing him on the cheek — with the national football federation. Many Iranians have expressed support for him, saying he's facing rebuke for "his private matters." 

Shirin Shakib, Mark Hallam