Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has joined a chorus of outrage against Iran and its treatment of women, claiming the Middle Eastern country should be banned from competing at the Qatar World Cup.
Blatter's scathing assessment comes amid widespread protests in the Islamic Republic, sparked by the death of a woman in the custody of morality police.
ALL THE INFO: The good, bad and ugly side of Qatar showpiece
'NEVER REPEAT THIS': Qatar World Cup rocked by $6 million scandal
Iran has accused foreign enemies of stirring up unrest over the death of Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in September, after she was arrested for allegedly flouting Iran's strict dress code imposed on women.
The weeks of protests that have followed in Iran pose one of the boldest challenges to the country's clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with Blatter one of a number of sporting identities to shine a light on the issue.
Swiss publication 'Blick' shared a video of the former FIFA president speaking about Iran's involvement in the World Cup, in which Blatter accuses football's world governing body of lacking the courage to do what is necessary when it comes to Iran.
"Iran should be excluded from the World Cup," Blatter was quoted as saying by the Blick tabloid, adding that he would have demanded harsh penalties and even removed Iran from competition had he still been in charge at FIFA.
"He's (current FIFA president Gianni Infantino) already having trouble creating a fund together with the Qataris - for all the workers who died in the construction of the infrastructure.
"I think it should be done by someone from FIFA who has courage. But Infantino doesn't even have the courage to give journalists an answer."
Blatter's comments come after a group of former and current Iranian sports figures sent a letter to FIFA, urging the governing body to exclude the country from participating in Qatar, accusing the Iranian football federation of violating FIFA statues and regulations.
"Iran's brutality and belligerence towards its own people has reached a tipping point, demanding an unequivocal and firm disassociation from the footballing and sports world," a press release issued alongside the letter stated.
Sepp Blatter says awarding Qatar World Cup was 'a mistake'
Blatter's latest comments follow on from his bombshell admission earlier this week that awarding Qatar the hosting rights for the World Cup was a "mistake".
Qatar scored hosting rights for the football showpiece after a 2010 vote that went ahead 14-8 in favour of the Middle East nation over the United States - with Blatter's role coming under scrutiny in the years that have followed.
The hosting rights for the 2022 tournament have long been subject to accusations of corruption, with Blatter forced to step down from FIFA in 2015 over a payment of two million Swiss francs to then-UEFA president Michael Platini in the lead-up to the vote.
Blatter has since claimed that the vote was swung in Qatar's favour thanks to Platini, who Blatter says was influenced by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to do so.
In charge of FIFA for some 17 years, Blatter left the organisation in disgrace after the payment to Platini was made public. Violations of FIFA's code of ethics later saw Blatter banned from football until 2028, while both men were found not guilty of fraud in a Swiss court.
The circumstances surrounding the vote have long been associated with suspicion around Qatar winning the rights to host the Cup in 2022, particularly given long-standing human rights concerns associated with the Middle Eastern nation.
In an interview earlier this week, Blatter argued Qatar was 'too small' to host the FIFA World Cup, being the smallest nation to do so since Switzerland in 1954.
“It’s a country that’s too small. Football and the World Cup are too big for that. It was a bad choice. And I was responsible for that as president at the time," Blatter said.
Qatar criticised over human rights record
Qatar has also faced global criticism around its human rights record and stance on homosexuality, with FIFA this week sending a letter to its member states asking for the focus to be on football instead of politics at the World Cup.
Many World Cup teams and players have spoken out against Qatar's human rights record, with members of the Socceroos' squad releasing a powerful video message on social media.
England manager Gareth Southgate has also added his voice to the debate, referencing the impact of gay players in the Lionesses’ Euro 2021-winning squad, when he said it was “highly unlikely” the England group would adhere to FIFA's request.
“We have always spoken about issues we think should be talked about, particularly the ones we feel we can affect," Southgate told reporters.
“Contrary to one or two observations in the last few weeks, we have spoken in the same way other nations have spoken about this tournament, the human rights challenges. We’ve been very clear on our standpoint on that.
“So, look I think we would like to focus primarily on the football. For every player, every coach and everybody travelling to a World Cup, this is a carnival of football.
“It is the thing you work for this your whole life and you don’t want that to be diminished by everything else that is going on around it currently. But we recognise we are going to be in that situation, we’ve got to accept and deal with it.”
Southgate added about Qatar's strict anti-LGBT laws: “So regarding the LGBT community, we stand for inclusivity and we are very, very strong on that. We think that is important in terms of all our supporters.
“We understand the challenges this tournament brings with that... if it wasn’t for the strength of that community, we wouldn’t be women’s European champions. So it’s very, very important to us.”
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.