Reports: Iranian Soccer Stars Forced to 'Retire' Over Wristband Protest

Iranian authorities have told four players on the nation's soccer team to turn in their cleats after they wore green wristbands in a show of solidarity with the country's opposition leader, the Guardian reported, citing opposition newspapers in Iran.

The players — including team captain Mehdi Mahdavikia and soccer star Ali Karimi — wore the wristbands in a June 17 match against South Korea in Seoul. Opposition newspapers reported that they were forced into retirement, along with Hosein Ka'abi, 24 and Vahid Hashemian, 32.

Mahdavikia is one of Iran's biggest sports heroes for a goal he scored to eliminate the United States during the first round of the World Cup in 1998.

More players on Iran's national soccer team wore green wristbands during the match, but removed them during half-time.

The move to wear the wristbands came as protesters in Iran accuse the government of rigging the June 12 election in favor of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They have been wearing green — the color of opposition leader Mir Houssein Mousavi's campaign — in a show of support for the opposition candidate.

Fans from Iran also showed their support for the demonstrations at home by staging a protest outside the stadium.

They unfurled a banner that read "Go to Hell Dictator," and chanted "Compatriots, we will be with you to the end with the same heart."

During the match, protesters waved the banner, held up green paper signs reading "Where is my vote?" and waved Iran's national flags emblazoned with the plea "Free Iran."

Click here to read more of this story from the Guardian.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.