Iran’s 2022 World Cup campaign began with a 6-2 defeat against England, but the events pre-match will hold far more significance back home.
Iran is a country in strife following two months of protests, and supporters in the stands at the Khalifa International Stadium were also keen to speak out against the country’s treatment of women. Recently, Iran’s parliament voted to bring in the death penalty for those protesting for women’s rights.
Iranian protestors weren’t best too pleased with their football team holding a meeting with President Ebrahim Raisi ahead of the tournament, but their silence ahead of Monday’s Group B clash with the Three Lions may well have put them back into their good books.
There has been unrest in Iran since 22 September when 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, died while in custody of the morality police.
Iran said her death was due to pre-existing conditions and accused its enemies of fomenting the unrest to destabilise the country.
Amini’s death sparked protests up and down the country against the Iranian government with hundreds of people dying amid the violence. According to the rights activist HRANA news agency, 344 have been killed with over 15,000 arrests being made.
Iran boss Carlos Queiroz says his players are free to protest against the Iranian regime in Qatar.
“Iran is exactly like your country. It follows the spirit of the game and the laws of FIFA. That’s how you express yourself in football. Everybody has the right to express themselves,” Queiroz said ahead of the tournament.
Former Brighton man and Iran skipper Alireza Jahanbakhsh accused the English media of attempting to destabilise his side’s World Cup campaign by asking him about the protests back home. However, he did say: “We’ve been through a lot of difficulties, and throughout the years there has been a lot of ups and downs in every way we can talk about, but when football comes together I think we can make joy and we can make happiness for people.”
Jahanbakhsh was coy when discussing a potential silence during the anthem ahead of Monday’s game, but Iran followed in the footsteps of their beach football, water polo and basketball teams in refusing to sing the national anthem.
While the Iranian players stood grim-faced and silent while their national anthem rang out inside the Khalifa International Stadium, Iranian supporters in the stands were keen to voice their displeasure as well.
Boos rang out in an act of solidarity with the protestors against the regime back home.
It was a hugely significant and poignant sequence.