Iran’s national soccer team sang during the playing of their national anthem at their second World Cup match against Wales on Friday, despite not singing in their opening game earlier this week in apparent support of protesters back home.
Loud jeers were heard from Iranian supporters as the anthem played, with the team singing quietly as it played.
Iranian authorities have responded with deadly force to suppress protests that have marked one of the boldest challenges to its clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Inside the stadium ahead of the match, a number of supporters had shown support for the protests.
A woman with dark red tears painted from her eyes held aloft a football jersey with “Mahsa Amini – 22” printed on the back – a reference to the 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman whose death while in the custody of morality police two months ago ignited the nationwide protests, a Reuters photo showed.
A man standing next to her held a shirt printed with the words “WOMEN, LIFE, FREEDOM”, one of the main chants of the protests.
Ahead of the World Cup, protesters had taken heart from apparent shows of support from a number of Iran’s national teams which refrained from singing the national anthem, such as the basketball team.
Team Melli, as the soccer team is known, have traditionally been a huge source of national pride in Iran, but they have found themselves caught up in politics in the World Cup run-up, with anticipation over whether they would use soccer’s showpiece event as a platform to get behind the protesters.
Asked on Thursday about the unrest at home Iran national team striker Mehdi Taremi said they were in Qatar to play soccer. “We are not under pressure,” he added after players refused to sing the national anthem in their first match at the World Cup against England.
Before travelling to Doha, the team met with hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Photos of the players with Raisi, one of them bowing in front of him, went viral and prompted an outcry on social media.
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