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Iran players sing national anthem at World Cup match


Soccer Football – FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 – Group B – Wales v Iran – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar – November 25, 2022 Iran players line up during the national anthem before the match REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

By Martin Petty and Maya Gebeily

AL RAYYAN, Qatar (Reuters) -Iran’s national soccer team sang during the playing of their national anthem at their second World Cup match against Wales on Friday having refrained from doing so in their opening game earlier this week in apparent support for protesters back home.

Loud jeers were heard from Iranian supporters as the anthem played, with the team singing quietly. Two anti-government fans said security had prevented symbols of support for the protests being taken into the stadium.

In the stadium, displays of support for protesters included a woman holding a soccer jersey with “Mahsa Amini – 22” printed on the back and blood red tears painted beneath her eyes – a reference to the woman whose death in police custody ignited the protests.

Iranian authorities have responded with deadly force to suppress protests ignited by the death of Amini, who was detained by morality police for allegedly breaching the Islamic Republic’s strict dress codes.

The protests have mark one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Ahead of the match, a man wearing a jersey declaring support for the protests was escorted into the stadium by security officers, a Reuters witness said.

Reuters could not immediately confirm why the man, wearing a shirt declaring “Women, Life, Freedom” – a major slogan of the protests – was being accompanied by three security officers in blue.

A spokesperson for the organising supreme committee referred Reuters to FIFA and Qatar’s list of prohibited items, but without saying which prohibited item he was carrying.

The rules ban items with “political, offensive, or discriminatory messages”.

The media liaison at the stadium for world governing body FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while the stadium media manager was not aware of the incidents but would respond later.

Another anti-government fan told Reuters her friends had been turned away because of their T-shirts which read “WOMEN LIFE FREEDOM”, adding that she had managed to sneak her own anti-government T-shirt past security.

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, a Reuters photo showed.

BIG CHEERS

Iranian fans were in good spirits as the game approached, with big cheers around the stadium as their players emerged from the tunnel for warm-ups, emitting a roar as star striker Sardar Azmoun, who has spoken in support of the protest movement, was announced in the starting lineup.

In contrast to Monday, when Iranian state television cut away from the broadcast while the anthem was playing, Iranian state media reported the players had sung on Friday, and showed footage of pro-government fans in the stadium in Qatar.

On Monday, ahead of their opening game against England, the players had been solemn and silent as the anthem was played.

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.

An Iranian-Canadian fan who gave her name as Azadeh said she didn’t care about the soccer. “My priority is my people in Iran who are fighting the Islamic regime with empty hands for their basic rights. I’m here to be their voice,” she told Reuters.

Team Melli, as the soccer team is 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 soccer’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.

Iranian authorities have arrested a number of soccer players for expressing their support for protests.

Voria Ghafouri, an outspoken Kurdish Iranian soccer player, was arrested on Thursday for “insulting the national team” and “propaganda against the system”, according to the official IRNA news agency. He was arrested after a training session with the Foolad Khuzestan Football Club.

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