Players on the Iranian national soccer team kept a defiant silence as their national anthem played ahead of their World Cup opener against England in Qatar on Monday — an apparent protest of the theocratic government’s months-long violent crackdown on widespread protests.
As a TV camera supplying a worldwide feed panned down Iran’s starting lineup, the players stood stone-faced with their arms around each other’s shoulders.
Multiple reports also indicated that some Iranian fans booed the anthem at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
Iran has been rocked by demonstrations since the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody after she was arrested for improperly wearing a hijab, violating the country’s strict dress code for women.
In the 22nd minute of Monday’s match, some fans began chanting Amini’s name, but the chant quickly faded out and was replaced by “Iran.”
Many Iran fans wore T-shirts or held signs printed with the mantra of the uprising — “Woman, Life, Freedom.” Others wore shirts bearing the names of female protesters killed by Iranian security forces in recent weeks.
According to the Norway-based Iran Human Rights NGO, at least 326 people have been killed in the protests. Human Rights Activists in Iran, another group that has been monitoring the protests, says at least 419 people have died.
The Iran national team’s captain, Ehsan Hajsafi, told reporters the day before the match that he and his teammates “support” those who have died.
“We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” said Hajsafi, who added that families of the victims “should know that we are with them, we support them and we sympathize with them.”
Iran’s participation in the World Cup has divided opinion among the team’s fans, thousands of whom made the short trip to Qatar to take in Monday’s match.
“At the end of the day, I want the players to achieve their dreams,” said one supporter, who gave her name only as Mariam. “It’s not their fault our society is so polarized.”
“The protest movement has overshadowed the football,” disagreed Kamran, a linguistics professor from the northern province of Mazandaran. “I want Iran to lose these three games.”
“A few months ago I would have said of course I want Iran to win against England and America,” Anusha, a 17-year-old Tehran high school student, told the Associated Press. “Now, it’s strange. I really don’t care.”
“In my heart, I don’t want them to win,” another fan, 59-year-old Mokhtar, told the Guardian — explaining that the propaganda value of World Cup success would be immense to the beleaguered regime.
“The players would go home and meet the president, they would be celebrated by the mullahs,” he said, adding: “I still hope they score a lot of goals, but then lose.”
Mokhtar got his wish, as Iran lost to England 6-2 in the first of their three games in Group B. Iran next plays Friday against Wales before wrapping up group play with a much-anticipated clash against the US Nov. 29.
With Post wires