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World Cup: In silence, a voice of solidarity

Iran team refuses to sing national anthem
Representational image.
Representational image.
File photo

Angshuman Roy   |   Doha   |   Published 22.11.22, 04:07 AM

Harry Kane developed cold feet but Iran players did not.

A day after Iran defender Ehsan Hajsafi said players should be the voice of those suffering back home, the team declined to sing the national anthem before their opening match against England on Monday after many fans back home accused the squad of siding with a violent state crackdown on persistent popular unrest.

It was a stunning symbol of protest on the sporting field. Before traveling to Doha, a picture of the team meeting president Ebrahim Raisi and one of them bowing in front of him was criticised by many.

Protests demanding the fall of the ruling Shi’ite Muslim theocracy have gripped Iran since the death two months ago of a young woman, Mahsa Amini, after her arrest for flouting the strict Islamic dress code.

Dozens of Iranian public figures, athletes and artists have displayed solidarity with the protesters — but not the football team and there had been anticipation over whether the players will use football’s showpiece event as a platform to show support for the movement.

“They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathise with them regarding the conditions,” Hajsafi, who plays for AEK Athens, told a news conference on Sunday night.

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

And on Monday, all team members, including Hajsafi, remained silent when the national anthem was played. Iranian state television did not show the players lined up for the anthem.  Ahead of the clash, Iran’s captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh had said the team would decide “collectively” whether or not to refuse to sing the anthem.

In contrast, England captain Kane, who had spoken about his plan to wear the OneLove band promoting diversity and inclusion, avoided doing so fearing sanctions.

Earlier this month, Iran’s national beach football team didn’t sing the national anthem ahead of a match against the UAE in Dubai. During the game, Saeed Piramoon, after scoring a goal, symbolically cut his hair on camera.

In India, during an ISL match earlier this month, Chennaiyin FC’s Iranian player Vafa Hakhamaneshi celebrated with a message supporting the women in his home country after scoring against East Bengal.

For many women at the Khalifa International Stadium, it was their first live football match. Women are banned from attending men’s matches in Iran. “I’ve never attended a football match in my life so I had to take this chance,” AP/PTI quoted Mariam, 27, a student of international relations, as saying. She declined to give her last name for fear of government reprisals.

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