The possibility of protest and non-protests are looming large over the England vs Iran World Cup match this afternoon (5 a.m. PST).
All eyes will be trained on the Iranian football team during the country’s pre-game national anthem as protests rage back home sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in custody last September.
Footballer Ehsan Hajsafi yesterday became the first member of Iran’s national team to speak out from the World Cup in Doha in apparent support of anti-government protests at home. “They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathize with them regarding the conditions,” the AEK Athens player told a news conference.
In the past few days, Iran captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh refused to confirm whether his team will sing the national anthem. “You’re asking about national anthem – that’s something that also has to be decided about in the team, which we already talked about and obviously everybody’s talking about,” he told a press conference on Wednesday.
The game comes following the arrest of two prominent Iranian actresses, Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi, according to multiple reports citing state media this morning.
The public protests sparked by Amini’s death show no signs of abating as they enter their 10th week. There were protests in several cities across Iran this weekend in spite of a harsh crackdown by security forces.
Armbands & kneeling
Meanwhile, England, Wales and seven other European nations had been preparing to wear OneLove armband to show support for diversity and inclusion in a country that criminalizes same-sex relationships but FIFA has now said players will be yellow carded if they are seen wearing the armbands. This morning, the nine nations bowed to the pressure and withdrew their mini-protest.
“We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented,” said a joint statement from seven Football Associations including the English FA. The FA’s personal statement added that it felt “betrayed” by FIFA. The decision by FIFA has made headlines around the world this morning while the climbdown by the national bodies has sparked frustration from many on social media.
The group said they had written to FIFA two months ago informing them about the armband and the governing body had not responded so the likes of England captain Harry Kane and Wales’ Gareth Bale had been preparing to wear the armbands.
The nations had previously believed they would only be fined if they wore the armbands and had indicated they would be happy to accept such a fine.
Responding, FIFA said it has instead brought forward its No Discrimination campaign, which was meant to start from the Quarter Finals, and captains can now wear a No Discrimination armband for the tournament’s duration.
England manager Gareth Southgate has also said his players will take the knee before the game starts in a show of faith towards the Black Lives Matter movement – something that the team has been doing for the past two years along with English Premier League sides.
“We think it is a strong statement to go around the world for young people in particular to see that inclusivity is very important,” said Southgate. “We have discussed taking the knee and feel we should.”
There is no suggestion so far that the England team will be sanctioned for taking the knee.