A file photo of Iranian players during the volleyball men's final match against Japan at the 16th Asian Games in November 2010.

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Handshakes between unrelated men and women are forbidden in Iran

The team shook hands with a woman referee from Kyrgyzstan

CNN  — 

The Iranian men’s volleyball team publicly apologized Thursday for shaking hands with a female referee after a televised match, Iranian media reported.

The shaking of hands between men and women who are not related is forbidden in Iran and many other conservative Muslim societies.

The apology came a day after the men’s team was sharply criticized for what state media described as “stunning and inappropriate” behavior by the players.

“Another mess in sports,” said a headline on the semi-official Fars news agency’s website.

The post-game handshake followed a match in the Iranian capital between Iran and Afghanistan.

After the match, the players shook hands with a woman referee from Kyrgyzstan, Fars reported. On Thursday, the Iranian team captain claimed some of his teammates shook hands with the woman because they were instructed to do so by the lead referee for the tournament, state media reported.

“The volleyball players regret their actions,” the team captain said, according to Fars.

– Journalist Farbod Jamali contributed to this report.