Iranian fans BOO their own anthem before World Cup game with England

Iranian fans BOO their own anthem before World Cup game with England in solidarity with protesters back home, while the players refuse to sing

  • Iran’s team refused to sing their anthem ahead of first game against England
  • Audible boos and jeers were also heard from the crowd as the tune played 
  • Fans were seen waving banners in the stands supporting protesters back home  
  • Iran has been beset by more than two months of demonstrations against regime 

Iran‘s players refused to sing the national anthem as boos rung out from the stands ahead of their first game of the Qatar World Cup against England today. 

The Iranian national squad stood stony-faced as the anthem played at the Khalifa International Stadium on Monday, in an apparent sign of solidarity with protests currently engulfing the country back home.

Meanwhile audible jeers and boos were heard by supporters in the crowd, who were also seen waving banners supporting the demonstrators. 

Iran's players refused to sing the national anthem as they lined up before their first game of the Qatar World Cup against England today

Iran’s players refused to sing the national anthem as they lined up before their first game of the Qatar World Cup against England today

Player stood stony-faced as the anthem played, while boos and jeers could be heard from the crowd behind them at the Khalifa International Stadium

Player stood stony-faced as the anthem played, while boos and jeers could be heard from the crowd behind them at the Khalifa International Stadium

Iran has been wracked by more than two months of anti-regime demonstrations sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini who died in police custody after being arrested for failing to wear a compulsory hijab.

Since then, near-daily marches have taken place calling for an end to the country’s strict interpretation of Islamic laws and the overthrow of the mullah’s regime.

News out of the country is limited amid widespread internet outages, but it is thought hundreds – if not thousands – of demonstrators have been killed by security forces in an increasingly violent crackdown.

Iran’s national team have signalled support for the protesters in recent weeks, with captain Ehsan Hajsafi declaring ‘our people are not happy’ at a pre-match press conference.

Striker Sardar Azmoun also refused to celebrate an equalizer against Senegal in a pre-tournament friendly, and multiple players have also changed their profile pictures to a black space as a sign of solidarity.

Iran is competing in the World Cup as a major women’s protest movement is roiling the country. Security forces have violently cracked down on demonstrations, killing at least 419 people, according Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has been monitoring the protests.

The unrest was spurred by the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police. It first focused on the state-mandated hijab, or headscarf, for women, but has since morphed into one of the most serious threats to the Islamic Republic since the chaotic years following its founding.

“A big achievement for protesters would be to have the choice to wear the hijab,” said Mariam. Her brown hair draped over her shoulders and ran long down her back. “But after that, women will go for their right to be in stadiums.”

In an effort to restrict large gatherings, Iran has closed all soccer matches to the public since the protests erupted. The reason for authorities’ fear became apparent as fans filtered into the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on Monday. Many Iran fans wore T-shirts or waving signs printed with the mantra of the uprising – “Woman, Life, Freedom.” Others wore T-shirts bearing the names of female protesters killed by Iranian security forces in recent weeks.

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The World Cup in Qatar, just a short flight across the Persian Gulf from Iran, has emerged as a rallying point for Iranian political mobilization. Protesters have even called on FIFA, soccer’s governing body, to prohibit Iran from competing in the tournament over restrictions on women in soccer stadiums and the government’s crackdown. 

The question of whether to root for the national team has divided Iranians as the team becomes entangled in the country’s combustible politics. Many now view support for the Iranian team as a betrayal of the young women and men who have risked their lives in the streets.

“The protest movement has overshadowed the football,” said Kamran, a linguistics professor who lives in the verdant northern province of Mazandaran. “I want Iran to lose these three games.”

Anusha, a 17-year-old whose Tehran high school has been rocked by protests, said the past few weeks of unrest had changed everything for her.

“A few months ago I would have said of course I want Iran to win against England and America,” she said. “Now, it’s strange. I really don’t care.”

Others insist the national team, which includes players who have spoken out on social media in solidarity with the protests, is representative of the country’s people and not its ruling Shiite clerics. The team’s star forward, Sardar Azmoun, has been vocal about the protests online. Two former soccer stars have even been arrested for backing the movement.

“At the end of the day, I want the players to achieve their dreams,” said Mariam. “It’s not their fault our society is so polarized.”

The Iranian government, for its part, has tried to encourage citizens to support their team against Iran’s traditional enemies. Iran plays the United States on Nov. 29 – a contentious showdown that last occurred at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Observers note that the players are likely facing government pressure not to side with the protests. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has urged his government to prepare for potential problems. Iran International, the Saudi-financed Farsi news channel that heavily covers the Iranian opposition, reported that Qatari authorities barred its reporters from attending the World Cup under Iranian pressure.

Already, Iranian athletes have drawn enormous scrutiny. When Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed in South Korea without wearing her country’s mandatory headscarf, she became a lighting rod of the protest movement.

“We’re waiting for them to show us they’re supporting the people in Iran,” Azi, a 30-year-old Iranian fan living in Ottawa, Canada, said of the national team. “Some kind of sign, by any way they can.”

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