Iran’s players sing national anthem ahead of World Cup game with Wales; Some fans jeer the anthem; reports of unrest in and around the stadium as some fans take a stand for women’s rights and some pay tribute to 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini who died while in police custody in Iran
Iran’s football team sang their national anthem at their second World Cup game against Wales having refrained from doing so in their tournament opener.
The players did not sing the Iranian anthem ahead of their game with England in Doha earlier this week in apparent support of protesters back in their motherland.
Loud jeers were heard from some supporters at the Al Rayyan Stadium as the anthem played prior to kick-off against Wales on Friday, with the team appearing to sing along quietly.
News agencies Reuters and Associated Press said there were reports of unrest both in Iran and outside the Al Rayyan stadium as pro-government supporters confronted peaceful protesters.
Inside the stadium ahead of the match, a number of supporters had shown support for the protests.
Image: An Iran supporter holds a shirt which reads ‘Mahsa Amini’ – the 22-year-old died while in police custody in Iran
A woman with dark red tears painted from her eyes held aloft a football jersey with “Mahsa Amini – 22” printed on the back – a reference to the 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman whose death while in the custody of morality police two months ago ignited the nationwide protests.
A man standing next to her held a shirt printed with the words “WOMEN, LIFE, FREEDOM”, one of the main chants of the protests.
Another supporter held an Iranian flag with the words “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest), scored through with black lines as a security man stood nearby apparently pointing at him.
We spoke to other protestors after the game who told us they’d had bags, flags and T-shirts confiscated and that there were pro-Iranian regime officials inside the stadium trying to intimidate them.
“A bunch of security guys approached us and told us, ‘you are not allowed to wear those T-shirts,” one protester told SSN.
“My cap, they got scared of this, and said take it off, so they just do not want our voice to be heard,” said another protester, while a third revealed how intimidated they felt, adding: “It was quite scary really, we did not feel comfortable.”
Iranian authorities have responded with deadly force to suppress protests that have marked one of the boldest challenges to its clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Amini died after being arrested by morality police for allegedly breaching the Islamic Republic’s dress codes around head coverings.
On Thursday, prominent Kurdish-heritage footballer Voria Ghafouri was arrested in Iran.
Iranian state media reported Ghafouri had been arrested for “insulting the national football team and spreading propaganda against the government”.
Ghafouri is a former Iran international who had been expected to be in their World Cup squad. The 35-year-old has spoken out about continuing protests in Iran and the country’s ban on women attending football matches.
He was arrested after a training session with his club Foolad Khuzestan.
Ahead of the World Cup, protesters had taken heart from apparent shows of support from a number of Iran’s national teams which refrained from singing the national anthem, such as the basketball team.
Team Melli, as the football team are known, have traditionally been a huge source of national pride in Iran, but they have found themselves caught up in politics in the World Cup run-up, with anticipation over whether they would use football’s showpiece event as a platform to get behind the protesters.
Asked on Thursday about the unrest at home, Iran national team striker Mehdi Taremi said they were in Qatar to play soccer. “We are not under pressure,” he added after players refused to sing the national anthem in their first match at the World Cup against England.
Before travelling to Doha, the team met with hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Photos of the players with Raisi, one of them bowing in front of him, went viral and prompted an outcry on social media.