Iran’s World Cup soccer team, in an apparent show of solidarity with fans back home protesting Tehran’s violent state crackdown on widespread protests, declined to sing their national anthem on Monday before their opening match in Qatar against England.
Many Iranians had accused their team of siding with the ruling Shiite Muslim theocracy even as dozens of Iranian public figures, athletes and artists had expressed support for the demonstrators.
Dozens of protesters have been killed in demonstrations against the government after a young woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody two months ago after she was detained by the country’s morality police for failing to properly cover her hair with a hijab.
Before traveling to Qatar, just across the Persian Gulf from their homeland, the Iranian soccer team met with hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Photos of the players with Raisi, one of them bowing in front of him, were widely posted on social media as the street unrest raged.
The Iranian players lined up for the national anthem before the opening of their match against England, but they remained silent as it was played, a decision they had made ahead of time.
Iranian state television did not broadcast the show of the players staying silent during the anthem.
On Sunday, Ehsan Hajsafi, the captain of Iran’s national football team, expressed sympathy for the “bereaved families” in his country.
“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.”
Iran lost to England in a 6-2 shellacking.