Iran’s players staged a remarkable protest by not signing their own national anthem at the World Cup, as supporters made their own deafening statement, in support for anti-government protesters in their homeland.
Prior to Monday’s 6-2 defeat to England, Alireza Jahanbakhsh said the team would decide together whether or not to refuse to sing the anthem in a show of solidarity for demonstrations that have rocked the regime in Iran.
The Iranian players stood grim-faced as their anthem played with a section of the Khalifa International stadium erupting with jeers in a spine-tinling moment that left some Iran fans in tears.
Earlier chants of “Say her name, Mahsa Amini” reverberated among protesters outside the stadium while many fans wore shirts that read “Woman, Life, Freedom.”
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Iran has been shaken by two months of nationwide protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody on September 16.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after her arrest in Tehran over an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women, which includes the mandatory hijab headscarf.
Some other Iranian athletes have chosen not to sing the national anthem or celebrate their victories in support of the protesters.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said after the match the political unrest had taken a toll on the squad.
“It is not right to come to this World Cup and ask them to do things that are not their responsibility. They want to bring pride and joy for the people,” Queiroz told reporters.
“You don’t even imagine behind the scenes what these kids have been living in the last few days, just because they want to express themselves as footballers.”
Queiroz said that whatever the players said, they could not win. “Of course we have feelings and beliefs and in due time, at the right moment, we will express them,”
The crackdown since Amini’s death has left nearly 400 people dead, according to Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.
The state’s response has led to questions over whether the team represents Iran or the regime that has ruled with an iron fist since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
— with AFP