Despite the victory, scrutiny of the anti-Iran protests is intensifying

Despite the victory, scrutiny of the anti-Iran protests is intensifying


Iran’s soccer stars clinched a famous win with a recent World Cup win, but scrutiny over the team’s behavior ahead of the crucial clash with the US will only intensify as its leaders crack down on protests at home.

In a striking about-face, the Iranian players sang their national anthem ahead of Friday’s game against Wales. Her silence when the song was played ahead of Monday’s game against England was taken as a show of solidarity with the protests.

Meanwhile, there is no sign of the protests abating or the crackdown as Iran prepares for Tuesday’s already politically charged game against the United States, which Iran’s clerical leadership likes to dub “the great Satan.”

A prominent former international star of the last decade, Voria Ghafouri, was arrested in Iran on Thursday after supporting the protests and condemning the crackdown.

The protest movement that erupted ten weeks ago following the death of Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the vice squad, has left the players, who are well known in the football-loving country, in extremely delicate situations.

Many of the movement’s supporters have not forgiven the side for meeting ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi before heading to Doha, with the anthem gesture before the game against England doing little to redeem them.

“Children of the mullahs” and “return to factory settings” were some of the swear words used on social media against the players after they decided to sing the anthem this time.

“Dishonorable mercenaries,” tweeted Kasra Aarabi, senior Iran analyst at the Tony Blair Institute in London.

There had also been speculation that the Iranian players would not celebrate the goals. But the team erupted in wild celebrations when two late goals were scored against Wales in the final minutes.

Former England player and prominent TV pundit Gary Lineker tweeted: “Considering the constraints Iranian players are likely to face, this is a spectacularly emotional win.”

– “Incredibly painful” –

Maziar Bahari, founder of news site Iran Wire, said players were clearly pressured to sing the anthem.

“The most halfhearted version of the Islamic Republic’s anthem. The players were threatened that they would have to sing the anthem otherwise,” he said.

It is not clear whether the timing of the arrest of Ghafouri – who was picked up after training with his club on Thursday – was intentional on the part of the authorities.

But the player, who is of Kurdish origin, has been one of the most outspoken prominent voices in Iran against the crackdown, and particularly in the Kurdish-populated regions of western Iran, where activists say dozens have been killed in the past week alone.

In another arrest, authorities reportedly also arrested Pejman Rahbar, the editor of the popular sports website

The state’s response to the protests has prompted questions about whether the team represents Iran or the regime that has ruled since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the Shah.

The team is known in Persian as “Tim Melli”, “The National Team”.

“Incredibly painful to see this humiliation of #TeamMelli,” wrote historian Roham Alvandi, associate professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“Thus the Islamic Republic denies us even the simple joy of supporting our national team on the world stage.”

– “Not our enemies” –

Qatari authorities also reportedly did not allow some fans to carry alternative Iranian flags into the stadium.

An AFP photographer witnessed on Friday at the stadium as security forces confiscated a flag with the protest slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” from a fan.

The turmoil in Iran has also tested the team’s Portuguese coach, Carlos Queiroz, who has tried to argue that his team shouldn’t get involved in politics and defend its players.

Smear by some team members on social media even suggested that goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand’s broken nose was karma for bowing to Raisi in the pre-Doha meeting.

“The players are not our enemies,” Queiroz wrote on Instagram this week.

Iran striker Mehdi Taremi on Thursday denied that his team had been pressured by his government to sing the anthem, saying: “I don’t like to talk about political issues but we’re not under pressure.”

A video later went viral on social media and showed Queiroz gently berating the BBC reporter who had asked Taremi for his views, saying: “Why don’t you ask (England manager Gareth) Southgate about England and the United States that have left Afghanistan?”

More to explorer