Iran World Cup Players Staying Silent During National Anthem Hailed As 'Highly Significant'

Footballers risk repercussions for apparent act of solidarity with protesters fighting for gender equality.
Iran players Ehsan Hajsafi, Alireza Beiranvand and Morteza Pouraliganji do not sing the national anthem before the World Cup match versus England.
Iran players Ehsan Hajsafi, Alireza Beiranvand and Morteza Pouraliganji do not sing the national anthem before the World Cup match versus England.
Sebastian Frej/MB Media via Getty Images

Iran’s national football team stayed silence during the national anthem before their opening World Cup game against England in a powerful protest over the human rights atrocities taking place in their home country.

The show of solidarity with anti-government protesters at the Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar ame as thousands of Iranian fans in the stands booed and shouted as the music rang out.

It follows more than more than two months of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of a young woman in the custody of the morality police, and marks one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s clerical leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran players line up for the national anthem.
Iran players line up for the national anthem.
Julian Finney via Getty Images

What are the protests about?

The death of Mahsa Amini sparked widespread protests in September after the 22-year-old died in custody having been detained for allegedly failing to follow the country’s Islamic dress code.

Amini was detained by Iran’s morality police for allegedly violating the law requiring women to cover their hair with the hijab, and their arms and legs with loose clothing.

According to some reports, officers then beat Amini with a baton over the head, and banged her head against one of their vehicles. She died on September 16.

Iran Human Rights reported this weekend that at least 378 people have been killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests, with over 40 killed by state security forces in the last week alone. More than 15,000 protestors have reportedly been detained.

What have others said?

The protests have seen prominent former players Ali Daei and Javad Nekounam both say they have declined an invitation from FIFA to attend the World Cup.

Actor and comedian Omid Djalili, who was born in London to Iranian parents, said Iran should be banned from the tournament and called on England’s players to mimic cutting their hair – which has been adopted by women in the Iran as a sign of defiance against the rules of compulsory hijab wearing – to make a statement in support of those protesting.

After the anthem was not sung, Djalili tweeted it was “highly significant”.

What is the importance of the protest?

While the national football team have traditionally been a huge source of national pride in Iran, it was unclear whether players would speak out in fear of repercussions from the hardline Islamic Republic.

Before travelling to Doha the team met with Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi. Photos of the players with Raisi, one of them bowing in front of him, went viral while the street unrest raged on, prompting an outcry on social media.

Before the game, Iran captain Ehsan Hajsafi became the first member of the Iranian team to make clear his unease.

He started Sunday’s press conference by saying: “Before anything else, I would like to express my condolences to all of the bereaved families in Iran.

“They should know that we are with them, we support them and we sympathise with them.”

Iran team-mate Saman Ghoddos spoke about the need for “freedom” in a recent interview, saying “something needs to change”.

Iran were thrashed 6-2 by England in the Group B game. Notably, the players did not celebrate when star striker Mehdi Taremi scored twice.


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