Iran’s players did not sing their national anthem before their first game of the World Cup against England on Monday, in apparent support for anti-government protesters in their homeland.
Ahead of the game in Qatar, 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 impassively and grim-faced as their anthem rang out around the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
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 Iranian athletes have chosen not to sing the national anthem or celebrate their victories in support of the protesters.
Jahanbakhsh, who used to play for English club Brighton, was angered last week by a question from a British journalist about the anthem issue.
“Every single player has a different celebration and you ask about national anthem and that’s something that also has to be decided in the team, which we already talked about,” he said.
“But we never made a big deal out of it, to be honest, because everybody is only thinking about football.”
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.
The football-obsessed nation of 80 million people is normally united by football but is reeling after two months of nationwide protests since the death of Mahsa Amini in morality police custody on September 16.
Players have faced calls from activists to use the World Cup to show solidarity with those killed during the protests, with attention on the playing of national anthems and celebrations.
In a World Cup warm-up game against Senegal in September, star striker Sardar Azmoun scored, but commentary focused on his muted celebration rather than his performance.
Before the Senegal game, protesters gathered outside the stadium in Austria pleading with the players to come out and express their support.
“We are here to just beg (the team)– please support us instead of standing against us,” said one of the organisers, Mehran Mostaed.
“Sure there are consequences for a football player to express support... but for sure they have to face the consequences.”
Closer home, Chennaiyin FC’s Vafa Hakhamaneshi stood in solidarity in their Indian Super League group match against East Bengal. Vafa scored the only goal of the match in the 69th minute, not long before he was sent off. Substitute Akash Sangwan whipped a good ball in from a corner and Hakhamaneshi was the first to reach it and nod it in from close range, giving the Marina Machans a crucial lead. However, the Iranian defender received a second yellow card of the game due to his celebration, and the visitors were down to ten men. Hakhamaneshi removed his jersey after scoring to reveal a message that supported the fight for women’s rights,
Text report by AFP