A record-breaking Iranian footballer who criticised the authorities’ crackdown on anti-regime protesters has said his family were prevented from leaving the country.
Ali Daei, who scored 109 international goals for Iran, the most for any country before Cristiano Ronaldo broke his record, said his wife and daughter were questioned by officials after a flight they were on was diverted.
They left the Iranian capital of Tehran legally, the former footballer said, before their plane made an unscheduled stop on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf.
Daei, 53, said his daughter was released but the aircraft doors had already closed by then. His family were planning to travel to Dubai and return next week, he said.
He has publicly supported anti-government protests that erupted after the death of a woman in police custody.
He had his passport briefly confiscated after returning home earlier this year.
On social media, the former team captain had urged the government to “solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than using repression, violence and arrests”.
Flight-tracking website Flightradar24 lists Mahan Air Flight W563 as being diverted to Kish Island before flying to Dubai a few hours later.
Both the airline and the Iranian authorities declined to comment.
The semiofficial Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, said Daei’s wife was given with a travel ban earlier this month because of her support for the protests.
His wife tried to illegally bypass the ban, it said, without providing further detail, adding her final destination was the US.
Daei scored more international goals than anyone else before he stopped playing and started managing his country instead.
Ronaldo broke Daei’s record last year and remains the world-leader with 118 international goals for Portugal.
Daei remains in second place with 109, followed by Argentina’s Lionel Messi with 98.
He is one of several Iranian public figures to back recent protests against the Islamic theocracy.
Nationwide protests erupted over the death in September of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for wearing “inappropriate attire” under Iran’s interpretation of the Islamic dress code.
Amir Nasr-Azadani, 26, a footballer, faces the death penalty for participating in nationwide protests.
The authorities have blamed the recent unrest on foreign adversaries such as the US and Israel.
The paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said on Sunday it had arrested seven people involved in the protests with a “direct link” to Britain.