What Happens After The Iran Players Refused To Sing The National Anthem?

The World Cup has brought the ongoing protests in Iran to wider international attention  – and it’s clear there’s no sign they’re going away any time soon.

Iran played England on Monday and lost, badly. But, for many, the game has just brought the political divide of the country to the forefront of global news, as demonstrations against the treatment of women continue.

Here’s what you need to know.

Iranian footballers and women around the world have shown their solidarity with the Mahsa Amini protests
Iranian footballers and women around the world have shown their solidarity with the Mahsa Amini protests

Iranian footballers and women around the world have shown their solidarity with the Mahsa Amini protests

What’s been going on with the protests?

Before unpacking the events of the game, it’s important to understand how much upheaval there’s been across Iran for the last two months.

Protests have rocked Iran since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, a Kurdish woman, died while in the custody of Iran’s morality police in Tehran. She was detained for supposedly breaking the laws which require women to cover their hair with a hijab, and their arms and legs with loose clothing.

According to some reports, officers beat Amini with a baton over the head after arresting her, and banged her head against one of their vehicles.

She died on September 16.

Iran’s police denied any mistreatment towards Amini, and claim she suffered “sudden heart failure”. However, her family repeatedly claim she was fit and healthy before being taken into custody.

The demonstrations have now moved on significantly. What began as calls for more equality for women and less politicisation of their bodies has become a widespread demand for the ousting of the Islamic Republic government.

The demonstrations, usually led by women, have included calls of “woman, life, freedom” and “death to the republic” – often leading to violent clashes with the nation’s security.

Protests began in the Kurdish region (to the west of Iran), but spread across the country and then leapt across borders with sister protests all over the world.

Iraq has also been roped into the demonstrations, with protests in the northern Kurdish region on the Iranian border, triggering Tehran to launch missile and drone attacks – a move which has been condemned by governments all over the world.

According to a group monitoring the unrest, Human Rights Activists in Iran, at least 426 people have been killed and more than 17,400 arrests.

However, due to the authorities’ control over social media and internet access, it’s difficult to understand just how many people have died amid the government’s attempts at oppressing the protests.

So, what happened at the game?

Iran lost 6-2 against England in its gruelling first World Cup match – but Iran did not celebrate after scoring either of its goals.

And, before the match started, the team decided to stay tight-lipped while their national anthem played around the stadium rather than sing it.

The subtle gesture was interpreted as a sign of unity with the protesters who have been calling out the Iranian government for months.

Despite this apparent gesture of solidarity, some fans shouted “shameless” in Persian at the players throughout the match, according to Bloomberg, even though the team is usually a source of pride for the country.

Other supporters could be seen carrying signs with the protest’s slogans, “Woman, life, freedom” and “without honour”.

Iran fans in the stands hold up signs reading
Iran fans in the stands hold up signs reading

Iran fans in the stands hold up signs reading "Woman Life Freedom" ahead of the FIFA World Cup Group B match at the Khalifa International Stadium.

According to Associated Press news agency, some fans chanted Amini’s name at the 22nd minute of the match. Others, The New York Times reports, sang the pre-revolutionary national anthem instead, a song which was dropped in 1979 when the monarchy was abolished.

Fans also tried to enter the stadium with the pre-revolution flag too, but they were allegedly barred from entering Qatar’s stadium unless they gave it up.

Shortly before the match, Ehsan Haisafi, the team’s captain also appeared to side with the protesters.

He said: “We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy.

“We are here, but it does not mean that we should not be their voice or we must not respect them.”

The coach of the national team Carlos Queiroz also claimed that players could protest “as long as it conforms with the World Cup regulations and is in the spirit of the game”, ahead of the first match.

However, the players have been scrutinised for not voicing their support for the protests in recent months.

How did Iran react to the defeat?

Videos, which have not been verified, shared on social media appear to show people celebrating Iran’s loss, honking car horns, dancing in the street. One even seems to be waving the UK’s flag.

However, internet access was restricted again almost instantly after the game, meaning it’s hard to gauge exactly how the country responded.

What happens to the players now?

Even as some fans are clearly frustrated that the high-profile figures have not more openly backed the demonstrations, there are fears the Iranian team could now face repercussions for not being patriotic enough and singing the national anthem.

The only official reaction has come from Ali Bahadori, the government’s spokesman, who tweeted: “We love Iran’s national team, in all circumstances.”

It’s worth noting that the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has urged athletes not to “disrespect” the country.

Soon after the match concluded, the state-approved newspaper Kayhan criticised the players for “not being zealous enough”.

And on Tuesday, its front page headline read: “Iran 2 – England, Israel, Saudi, and all the traitors at home and abroad, 6.”

Concerns over how the team may be treated by their home country have subsequently soared.

As Tory MP Caroline Nokes warned on TalkTV: “These young men have taken a very brave stance, haven’t they? In the same way, women across Iran are also being phenomenally brave.”

She suggested the UK Home Office looks at a “bespoke scheme” for those who may face government persecution if they applied for asylum.

The team (fondly known as Team Melli by their fans) is staying in Qatar for the tournament for now, and will play their next match on Friday November 25, against Wales.

Is it just the football?

No, all kinds of industries in Iran are joining in with the protests despite the threat of the government’s response.

Two well-known actresses were arrested over the weekend for removing their head scarves and joining in with the demonstrators.

Hengameh Ghaziani and Katayoun Riahi were arrested on Sunday for joining the protests, according to state-run media, and they were charged with “collusion with the intention of acting against the state security” and “propaganda against the state”.

The day before, Ghaziani wrote on her personal Instagram account: “How many children, teenagers and young people have you killed – is it not enough with the bloodshed?

“I hate you and your historical reputation,” she added: “This may be my last post.”

At least 19 Iranian artists have been arrested since the protests started too, according to the Centre for Human Rights in Iran.

Related...