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By ESPN Staff

German leader against banning Iran from World Cup

BERLIN, Jan 1 (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she opposed banning Iran from the World Cup because of controversial remarks by Iran's president, saying it would be wrong to punish the players for his words.

Responding to demands to ban Iran because its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said Israel should be moved to Europe and suggested the Holocaust might never have happened, Merkel told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper she doubted the value of a ban.

'I'm sceptical about demands for a ban. One would have to reconsider if the World Cup were held in Iran. But the Iranian team can't influence the comments of their president. That's why I think it's difficult to punish a team by banning them.'

Iran is one 32 countries to have qualified for the tournament in Germany from June 9 to July 9.

In widely condemned comments, the Iranian president suggested last month that the Holocaust might not have happened. That followed his call in October for Israel to be 'wiped off the map'. Six million Jews were killed in the Nazi Holocaust.

In Berlin, the Foreign Ministry had summoned Iran's ambassador to protest about the remarks. Several German soccer leaders, the opposition Greens party and some leaders in Merkel's conservative party had called for a ban of the Iranian team.