Sports

Iranian fans savour victory but wrangle over protests

AL RAYYAN, Qatar, Nov 25 (Reuters) – The Iran national football team sang while playing their national anthem during their second World Cup match against Wales on Friday after failing to do so in their opening game earlier this week, apparently in support of protesters At home.

Loud cheers could be heard from Iranian supporters as the national anthem played, as the team sang softly before winning 2–0, leading to euphoric celebrations outside the stadium as government supporters tried to drown out opponents’ chants after the match .

Before the game, several fans said security had prevented them or friends from taking the stadium in support of the protesters. One said he was being held. Another said security forces made him take off a T-shirt that read “Women, Life, Freedom” – a slogan of the protests.

At the stadium, a woman held up a soccer jersey with “Mahsa Amini – 22” printed on the back and blood-red tears painted under her eyes – in commemoration of the woman whose death in police custody sparked the protests more than two months ago.

Iranian authorities have responded with deadly force to quell protests calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic, one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s cleric rulers since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

After the game, Iranians danced and cheered as they poured out of the ground.

A few wore T-shirts in memory of Amini, who was arrested for allegedly ignoring Iran’s strict dress code, or carried banners reading “Women, Life, Freedom”.

Fans waving the official Iranian flag tried to drown them out with their own chants.

One of them stepped in front of a group of women with WOMEN LIFE FREEDOM on their shirts and started singing over them. He wore a T-shirt printed with a picture of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qassem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian general who was killed by a US drone strike in 2020.

The victory ensures a decisive game against the United States on Tuesday.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, part of a hardline establishment that has denounced the protests as riots sparked by Iran’s enemies, praised the team for “bringing the sweetness of victory to the people of our country”.

Unlike on Monday, when Iranian state television interrupted broadcasting while the national anthem was playing, Iranian state media reported that the players had sung on Friday and showed footage of pro-government fans inside the stadium.

State television showed people celebrating in the streets of several cities in Iran.

Ahead of the World Cup, protesters had taken heart from the apparent support of some Iranian national teams for refraining from singing the national anthem.

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

Iranian fans were in high spirits as the game approached, cheering in the stadium as their players emerged from the tunnel for warm-ups and roaring as star striker Sardar Azmoun, who had spoken out in support of the protest movement, was announced. in the starting position.

Team Melli, as the football team is known, has traditionally been a huge source of national pride in Iran, but in the run-up to the World Cup, they got caught up in politics, expecting whether to use football’s flagship product as a platform to get behind the protesters.

‘BEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE’

Before the game, a man wearing a jersey that read “Women, Life, Freedom” was escorted into the stadium by security officers, a Reuters witness said.

Reuters could not immediately confirm why the man was accompanied by three blue-clad security guards.

A spokesman for the organizing senior committee referred Reuters to FIFA’s and Qatar’s list of prohibited items, but did not say what prohibited item he was carrying.

The rules prohibit articles 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’s media manager was unaware of the incidents but would respond later.

Payam Saljoughian, 36, a US-based lawyer, said security forces had urged him and his father to take off “Women, Life, Freedom” shirts, but his two siblings and mother had not been told. to take them off. “It was the best moment of my life – despite everything,” he told Reuters.

Iranian-American fan Shayan Khosravani, 30, told Reuters he was stopped by stadium security 10 minutes before kick-off.

He said he was detained after being told to put away pro-protest material, which he did. But he was wearing a ‘free Iran’ shirt.

Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Written by Tom Perry; Edited by Toby Chopra, Gareth Jones, William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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