- Iran’s participation in the 2022 FIFA World Cup has been the subject of controversy due to protests and political unrest.
- Critics say Iran should not take part in the tournament, referring to players as the “Islamic Republic” team.
- The players appeared to support the protesters by not singing the national anthem before their first game.
Representing your country at an international sports tournament is usually a source of pride, excitement and inspiration for athletes and fans alike.
For Iranians, the 2022 FIFA World Cup was mired in controversy due to the ongoing insurgency and dissatisfaction with their homeland’s theocratic regime.
Fans expressed mixed feelings on Monday night as the national team took on England for their first game of the tournament. Some made no secret of their support for the protesters, waving signs with messages like “Women, Life, Freedom.”
An Iranian-English fan told Reuters the match offered a way out of the political unrest.
“For some time we have been trying to forget the problems in Iran. It was a happy opportunity for us to see the two play together,” he said.
“And I think for 90 to 100 minutes in our free time we didn’t think about what’s really happening in Iran.
“I think all people around the world want the best for humanity and Iran is part of that, so hopefully things will get better.”
Others are frustrated with the team and see their participation as implicit support for the government.
Before the trip to Doha, the team met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and photos of the players bowing to him sparked an outcry on social media.
“I have mixed feelings. I love football but with all these children, women and men killed in Iran, I think the national team shouldn’t play,” university student Elmira told Reuters before the game.
“It’s not the Iran team, it’s the Islamic Republic team.”
Captain Ehsan Hajsafi addressed the issue publicly for the first time on Monday.
“We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” he said.
“We’re here, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be their voice or we can’t respect them.”
At the start of the game, the players chose not to sing the national anthem; Instead, he remained silent in what appeared to be a supportive nod to the protesters at home.
One fan, who asked not to be named, told Reuters he was proud of the team for not singing.
“We are all sad because our people are being killed in Iran, but we are all proud of our team because they didn’t sing the national anthem – because it’s not our national anthem, it’s just for the regime,” they said.
Ahead of the game, which Iran lost 6-2, Omid Djalili, a British comedian of Iranian origin, expressed his support for the protesters .
“They are protesting against gender apartheid,” he said
“Iran (Islamic regime) is a terrorist state that oppresses women; women are not allowed to go to soccer games.”
Some fans attended the 2022 FIFA World Cup matches and showed signs of support for Iranian women. Source: Getty / Maryam Majd / ATP Images
Djalili said Iran should have been excluded from the tournament.
“They should have been kicked out of the World Cup, they are breaking every FIFA statute against anti-discrimination,” he said.
“Iranian players had a meeting with Raisi and they bowed to their masters, they bowed to the terrorists, so they don’t represent the Iranian people.”
What is happening in Iran?
On September 16, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini because she wore her hijab wrong.
In the two months since, an anti-government uprising has swept the country demanding better treatment of women and the overthrow of theocratic rule.
As unrest continues to mount, police and the government launched a crackdown on protesters.
The activist HRANA news agency said 410 protesters had been killed in the unrest as of Saturday, including 58 minors.
In addition, 54 members of the security forces were killed and at least 17,251 people were arrested. Authorities have not provided an estimate of a larger death toll.