Iran football team: could national anthem protests and sanctions impact squad at Qatar World Cup 2022

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Iranian fans fear for ‘Team Melli’ as they protest their government by refusing to sing national anthem

The Iranian Football team may well face sanctions on their return to the country following the World Cup in Qatar if they continue to stay silent during their national anthem. Team Melli, as the national team is known, stayed silent when their anthem was played before the 6-2 defeat to England on Monday, in a symbolic show of support for the protest movement that has engulfed the Islamic Republic since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in September.

On Tuesday 22 November, Mehdi Chamran, the chairman of Tehran city council said: “We will never allow anyone to insult our anthem and flag. Iranian civilisation has a history of several thousand years, this civilisation is as old as the total of European and American civilisations.”

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Fans have been divided over the move with some in support of the subtle, yet still dangerous move, while others have felt it is “the least they could do.” The world will now be watching to see if the Iranians continue to make their anti-government gesture when they take on Wales this Friday (25 November).

What is happening in Iran?

22-year-old Mahsa (Jini) Amini was taken into custody back in September by the so-called Morality Police after she allegedly failed to comply with the country’s strict hijab laws. No-one has yet been charged with killing Amini but the government have instead reportedly killed over 400 unarmed civilians and arrested more than 15,000 protesters.

Protests around the world following the death of Mahsa Amini in SeptemberProtests around the world following the death of Mahsa Amini in September
Protests around the world following the death of Mahsa Amini in September | Getty Images

The Islamic Republic parliament voted for severe punishment of protesters and referred to the arrested number as “mohareb” (enemy of God). Despite the severe sanctions these protesters have faced, the regime appears still unable to contain the protests.

What are the footballers doing to protest?

Team Melli’s refusal to sing the national anthem have meant they have joined other athletes who are showing their solidarity with protesters. Parmida Ghasemi, the Iranian archer, recently removed her hijab during an awards cermeony in Tehran, although she has later stated that this was in fact due to “wind and stress.”

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In the final of the Intercontinental Beach Soccer Cup in the United Arab Emirates, Iran’s Saeed Piramoun celebrated his goal by gesturing the cutting of his hair which has now become an international symbol of support for Iranian women and those who are demanding change.

Similarly, after scoring a goal in a Futsal match, Hashim Shir Ali paid tribute to the Baluchi activist Khodanour Lajaei by sitting with his arms extended as if they were locked around a pole (much like what Lajaei suffered at the hands of the Iranian police).

The Iranian football team initially drew much criticism for even planning to compete in Qatar and these feelings worsened when they were then pictured bowing in front of President Ebrahim Raisi in a send-off ceremony. During their match against England, the crowd booed from the stands with some wearing T-shirts and signs displaying: “Woman, Life, Freedom”.

What has been said?

Prior to his country’s first match in Qatar, Iran’s captain Ehsan Hajsafi said: “Before anything else, I would like to express my condolences to all of the bereaved families in Iran. They should know that we are with them, we support them adn we sympathize with them.

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“We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy. We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we should not respect them.”

Heavy censorship of the Iranian media has meant that little was reported of their football team’s failure to sing the national anthem. However, Kayhan, the newspaper probably closest to supreme leader Ali Khamenei published a report that, as published in the Guardian, says: “For weeks foreign media had conducted ruthless and unprecedented psychological-media war against this team.

“This campaign did not spare any effort to create a gap between the people of Iran and the members of the Iranian football team, as well as producing false dichotomies. This political-media movement, mainly Londoners, with the support and coordination of local patriots, from movie and sports celebrities to chain media and Telegram channels, and even reformist political figures, have joined hands to attack the players.”

When is Iran’s next match?

Iran will play Wales on Friday 25 November 2022 with a kick-off time scheduled for 10am GMT. The match will be available to watch on BBC One and BBC iPlayer for those wishing to stream.

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