Iran’s embassy in London has accused The Times of London of 'Iranophobia' for mocking Tehran’s offer to host football fans during the World Cup in Qatar.

In a tweet Thursday, the embassy wrote that Iran and its islands in the Persian Gulf were “safe for all including Britons and World Cup fans from around the world to enjoy the beauties of this land,” and that “Iranian civilizational and historical identity cannot be distorted by Times.”

In an article Wednesday headlined "No Room in Qatar? Enjoy the World Cup From An Iranian Island," the Times scoffed at Iran’s readiness to host soccer fans and its considering waiving visa requirements for Kish and other islands.

"Alcohol is banned, British nationals are regularly picked up on spurious charges of spying and only two weeks ago female football fans were pepper-sprayed for having the cheek to attend an international match,” the Times wrote. In Qatar itself, strict laws banning alcohol consumption may be waived during the World Cup for foreigners in hotels if not in stadiums.

Despite an expectation of one million visitors in Doha for the tournament in November and December, booking for hotels has not yet begun. Fans from around the world are looking at options including rooms on a cruise ship at $4,000 a week, private accommodation, and luxury camping in the desert.

Women in Iran have to appear fully clothed even at beaches. Kish Island

On Sunday, Rostam Ghasemi, Iran's transport minister, met with his Qatari counterpart, Jassim bin Saif Al Sulaiti, on Kish Island to discuss Iran’s involvement, following up suggestions made by President Ebrahim Raisi during a visit to Doha in February.

"Kish is the focal location for these arrangements, although other coastal and non-coastal provinces in Hormozgan and Bushehr close to the Persian Gulf can play a supporting role,” Ghasemi said.

Daily flights

Mohammad Mohammadi, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation, said the current 72 daily Iran-Qatar flights could be boosted to 100 during the World Cup.

Iran’s tourist sector, which includes religious and medical tourism, has struggled in recent years in the face of both United States sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic. The sector is keen for a boost from the World Cup and is touting the value on offer in Iran given the rial’s decline on foreign exchange markets. Despite Iran’s ban on alcohol and gender-segregated beaches, it was attracting around 5 million tourists annually before US ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions.

The Times, arguing that easing visa requirement for British and American citizens would not remove a tense political climate between Iran and the west, highlighted cases of dual nationals being arrested in Iran, including the daughter of one protesting this week in London outside the Foreign Office. Tehran and London both denied any connection between Iran recently freeing two British-Iranian dual nationals it had held for years on espionage charges and Britain finally paying a four-decades-old debt of £400 million ($530 million). But the connection between the money and hostages was clear to all for a long time and the exchange happened last month simultaneously.

Some Americans may also remember that Kish Island is where Central Intelligence Agency contractor Robert Levinson disappeared 16 years ago. The Trump administration said Iranian intelligence Iranian was responsible for his capture and probable death.

Sidik and the Panther
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