Even before a ball was kicked in Iran World Cup Opening game against England on Monday, Iran’s players made a powerful statement.
In what appeared to be a show of solidarity with those protesting at home The players remained silent as the Iranian national anthem was played at the Khalifa International Stadium before kick-off on Monday. The match ended in a 6-2 victory for England.
Protests, chaos and violence have rocked Iran in recent months and threatened the very nature of the country’s regime, which has been in power for more than 40 years.
The protests, described by experts as the most significant since the establishment of the clerical government after the 1979 Iranian revolution, were sparked by the death of mahsa amini, a 22-year-old woman who died after being detained by Iran’s morality police, allegedly for failing to comply with the country’s conservative dress code. Iranian security forces have unleashed a violent response.
Before the tournament began, Iran’s head coach Carlos Queiroz said that players could protest while they were competing in Qatar.
Monday’s quiet show of respect was met with a strong reaction from Iranian fans, many of whom cheered throughout. It is not clear if it was in support of the players.
On the pitch, Iran could not cope with the quality of England as goals from Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling had England out of sight late in the first half.
The impressive Saka added their second in the second half, with further goals from Marcus Rashford and Jack Grelish completing the rout.
Iran gave their fans something to cheer about after Mehdi Taremi scored a well-executed goal to make it 4-1 and added a penalty right at the end of stoppage time, but for many Iranian fans, the result wouldn’t have been the best. . significant event of the day.
It speaks to the precarious nature of the political situation in Iran that many fans felt the need to hide their identity as they walked to the stadium for this Group B match.
Three Iranians spoke to CNN wearing hats, masks and sunglasses, none of whom felt comfortable giving their names for fear of repercussions in Iran.
One held a giant pair of scissors, symbolizing the widespread act of defiance in Iran for women to cut their hair. They were afraid of rumors, they said, that Iranian authorities had sent security to Qatar to monitor fans, but said their own safety mattered less than the plight of their family and friends back home.
“We know the players are under immense pressure, yet the Iranian population expects them to do something,” a fan told CNN.
In the aftermath of protests and human rights violations in Iran, various groups inside and outside the country called on FIFA, the world’s governing body for the sport, to ban the country from participating in the World Cup.
In October, a group of prominent Iranian athletes lobbied FIFA through a law firm, urging the governing body to suspend the Football Federation of Iran (FFIRI) and ban it from participating in the World Cup.
The Football Association of Ukraine also called on FIFA to “consider excluding” the Iran national team, citing the “systematic violations of human rights” there and “the possible involvement of Iran in Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.” .
FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended Iran’s participation in the World Cup in his pre-tournament press conference, saying the match against England is “two football teams” facing each other in matches rather than ” two regimes” or “two ideologies”.
England also had a decision to make before their opening game. The Football Association and captain Harry Kane had said they would use a “One love” bracelet to promote inclusion and oppose discrimination.
However, just hours before kick-off, England joined several other nations in reversing their decision due to the danger of receiving yellow cards for wearing the armband.
Organizers hoped the focus would shift from off-field issues to on-field action after the tournament began. But, barely two days after the start of the tournament, football still does not take center stage.