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Iran’s World Cup group refuses to sing nationwide anthem as rebellion rages again house

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DOHA, Qatar — As their nation’s nationwide anthem was performed on the World Cup on Monday, Iran’s gamers appeared silent and stone-faced, declining to sing in what was broadly seen as an acknowledgment of — or perhaps a present of solidarity with — a well-liked rebellion unfolding at house.

The look of Team Melli, because the Iranian squad is understood, is being carefully watched, and never only for the way it performs within the stadiums in Qatar. During widespread unrest in Iran that started in September with the dying of a younger girl, Mahsa Amini, in police custody, Iranian sports activities figures — together with revered present and former gamers for the nationwide soccer group — have assumed a central function.

As anti-government protesters have appeared to the soccer gamers to help the protest motion, which has confronted a withering and lethal crackdown by the federal government, Iran’s leaders have tried to maintain the group’s gamers from talking out, hoping to make use of sports activities as a distraction from the rebellion, somewhat than a rallying name, analysts say.

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“I’m excited, but not completely, because of the process of revolution in Iran,” stated one supporter of Team Melli who had traveled from the Iranian metropolis of Shiraz, as he strolled in a shopping center earlier than Monday’s match on the close by Khalifa International Stadium.

“I’m full of energy for my team. But my people are being killed by the regime,” he stated. The gamers had been in a bind, having to think about household in Iran as they determined whether or not to be vocal, he stated. But he added: “We want more sympathy from them.”

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Fans of the Iranian nationwide group in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 21 spoke in favor of ongoing protests in opposition to Iran’s regime. (Video: The Washington Post)

Among the spectators, some confirmed clear help for the rebellion, carrying indicators that learn, “Woman, life, freedom,” the central slogan of the protests. In the stands, some followers may very well be heard shouting the phrase “dishonorable” on the group in Persian, echoing a chant hurled at safety forces in Iran.

Some of the supporters had not observed the gamers’ motion. “None of the players sang?” stated a younger man who had traveled from Tehran for the match afterward. “Of course, it’s a statement,” he stated. Iran’s nationwide broadcaster, in the meantime, solely confirmed choose pictures of spectators cheering for Iran and no political indicators.

Even earlier than the beginning of the event, some Iranians had referred to as for FIFA to ban the group as an indication of help for anti-government protests. Others argued that Iran attending the World Cup is vital for protesters again house, as a high-profile occasion that provides alternatives for gamers and spectators to voice dissent.

But members of the Iranian group, underneath huge strain from each the general public and safety providers, have largely remained mute, stated Omid Namazi, a former assistant coach of Iran’s nationwide group.

“They’ve been put in a very precarious situation,” he stated. Iranian authorities and the intelligence brokers touring with the group clearly need them to remain silent, whereas Iranians “expect these guys who are celebrities and well-known to be their voice.”

He couldn’t recall Iranian soccer ever changing into this political and polarized.

“This is the biggest event in the world,” he stated. “And obviously the regime is very concerned about this.”

The day earlier than flying to Qatar, the members of Team Melli all met with President Ebrahim Raisi on Nov. 14. They posed for {a photograph} with Raisi, a hard-liner who’s overseeing the crackdown, angering many Iranians.

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Team ahead Sardar Azmoun has been essentially the most vocal champion of the rebellion, Namazi stated.

“I don’t care if I’m sacked,” Azmoun wrote in a since-deleted post on Instagram in late September. “Shame on you for killing people so easily. Viva Iranian women.”

The put up fueled hypothesis that Azmoun could be punished and disregarded of the 26-player World Cup group. He later issued an apology on Instagram.

In the weeks that adopted, sports-related controversies continued to form the narrative of Iran’s rebellion.

An Iranian feminine climber, Elnaz Rekabi, made world headlines in mid-October when she competed and not using a headband in South Korea. In November, members of a well-liked soccer membership group, Esteghlal, didn’t have fun after profitable the nation’s Super Cup. It was a “bitter victory” devoted “to the women of Iran and the families of all the victims,” one player told Iranian media.

A small gesture by seashore soccer participant Saeed Piramoon, after he scored the group’s profitable objective on the Intercontinental Cup in early November, resonated broadly with Iranians supporting the protests. Piramoon simulated snipping his hair, imitating Iranian girls who’ve publicly lower their hair as a part of the protests. The gesture swiftly unfold throughout Iranian social media.

The relative silence of Team Melli has contrasted with the outspokenness of a few of Iran’s soccer legends.

From his base in Dubai, Iranian soccer celebrity Ali Karimi threw his weight and status behind the rebellion — a stance he took early within the protests, which additionally most likely has made it inconceivable for him to soundly return to Iran. On Oct. 4, he was charged in absentia with “encouraging riots.”

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Karimi, together with Ali Daei, a former head of Iran’s nationwide soccer group, and Javad Nekounam, one other soccer star, all refused FIFA invites to attend the World Cup.

Hundreds of hard-line Iranian politicians earlier this month referred to as for harsh punishments, together with the dying penalty, in opposition to Iranian protesters. But Iran’s Portuguese head coach, Carlos Queiroz, final week informed a information convention that Team Melli members may “protest as they would if they were from any other country.”

On Sunday, Ehsan Hajsafi, the group’s 32-year-old captain, chatting with the information media forward of the England match, stated the gamers “support” the protesters, in keeping with Reuters. “They should know that we are with them,” he stated. “We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right, our people are not happy.”

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For among the supporters of the protests, although, the group had not been sufficiently outspoken — and even their silence throughout the nationwide anthem was not sufficient.

“This is too late,” stated Mahmood Ebrahimzadeh, a former participant for Iran’s nationwide group dwelling in exile in Maryland, referring to the group’s refusal to sing. “It’s not going to do any good anymore.”

“If they wanted to be silent, they could stay in the country and not come to the World Cup,” he stated.

After the 6-2 loss to England on Monday, Queiroz, the coach, prompt his gamers had been going through extra strain than they deserved. “You don’t even imagine, you don’t even know, behind the scenes, what these kids, they’ve been living — just because they want to play football, because they want to express themselves as footballers,” he stated.

“They are human beings,” he stated. “They are kids. They only have one dream.”

Berger reported from Washington. Chuck Culpepper in Doha contributed to this report.

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