By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
An Iranian soccer player has been banned from domestic matches for six months over "inappropriate" behavior that included the wearing of SpongeBob SquarePants trousers. Iranian media reported on June 7 that the morality committee of the Iranian Football Federation based its decision on goalkeeper Sosha Makani's "unconventional attire."
Goalkeeper Sosha Makani represented Iran at the 2014 soccer World Cup in Brazil.
A photo shared by Shargh Daily shows Makani -- who represented Iran at the 2014 World Cup and currently plays for Persepolis in Iran's Pro League -- looking trendy in a seemingly candid moment clad in the bright yellow pants, a playful azure T-shirt, and yellow-trimmed high-tops.
SpongeBob SquarePants is an anthropomorphic yellow sea sponge at the center of an animated children's series that has spawned billions of dollars in global merchandising revenues for U.S.-based Nickelodeon and MTV Media Networks.
A member of the morality committee was quoted by sports website Varzesh3 as saying that Makani had been summoned repeatedly by the Football Federation to explain his attire but had failed to do so.
"We made the decision based on the clothing of this national football team player and the impact it can have on society," the unnamed official from the federation's morality committee said.
کمیته اخلاق فدراسیون فوتبال سوشا مکانی را به علت "لباسهای خارج از عرف" ۶ ماه محروم کرد.pic.twitter.com/jxQEQVo8P5— روزنامه شرق (@SharghDaily) June 8, 2016
The reports say Makani can appeal the decision, and the ruling does not prevent him from playing in international matches.
Makani's headache began after the snapshot was posted online and shared widely on social media. Some news sites criticized his attire as "inappropriate" and accused him of setting a bad example for fans.
Hojatoleslam Alireza Alipour, the secretary of the federation's moral charter, told the hard-line Tasnim news agency in May that celebrities "should watch their behavior."
"These people are, intentionally or unintentionally, a role model for the youth," the cleric told Tasnim.
Some Iranians mocked the ban on him via social media.
"Are we in a kindergarten?!!! Why do they care about what he's wearing," tweeted one user.
"If Makani's banned over yellow pants, then this mullah should be defrocked," another Twitter user wrote alongside what appeared to be a screengrab from Iranian state television showing a cleric in a yellow shirt.
اگه سوشا مکانی رو بخاطر شلواز زرد محروم کردن این آخوند رو هم باید خلع لباس کنن pic.twitter.com/6tqIzXzPv8— کیوت السلطنه (@davwvod) June 8, 2016
Makani has not commented publicly on the controversy, which is his second perceived misstep in the eyes of Iran's hard-line establishment.
The 29-year-old was arrested and jailed earlier this year over photos posted online showing him with unveiled women. He was later released and allowed to return to join his Persian Gulf Pro League team in Tehran.
Sosha Makani posing with unveiled women
Under Islamic laws enforced in Iran following the 1979 revolution, women must cover their hair and body while men are required to dress modestly in public.
Iranian officials appeared to step up their vigilance against Western influences following the signing in July of an international deal to ease UN and U.S. sanctions in return for curbs on Tehran's nuclear program.
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