Since the start of the protest movement, the authorities have been carrying out deadly repression which has claimed hundreds of victims, according to NGOs. More than fifteen thousand demonstrators were also arrested, according to the same sources.
Even before the kick-off of the meeting between England and Iran, Monday, November 21 in Doha, all eyes were on the Time Melli players: were the Iranians going to show their solidarity with the victims of the demonstrations that bloodied Iran for several weeks?
The answer came shortly before the start of the match when the eleven Iranian players on the ground refrained from singing their national anthem, before the kick-off of their first match of the World Cup.
As the anthem sounded in the stadium, the cameras briefly showed the face of a spectator in her fifties, a white veil over her head, her face bathed in tears. The players, meanwhile, kept a completely impassive faces, while on the bench a member of the delegation sang.
“Women, life, freedom” (“women, life, freedom”), could we read on a banner in the stands occupied by the Iranians which, withdrawn, quickly disappeared. During the week, their captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh explained that the players would decide “collectively” whether or not to sing the national anthem in support of the victims of the demonstrations. He also explained that whether or not to celebrate a possible goal during the World Cup would be a “personal” choice. Physically diminished, the star of the team, Sardar Azmoun, who denounced the repression on social networks, was not part of the starting lineup.
Support for Iranian athletes beyond the pitch
Since the beginning of the uprising – caused by the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, arrested by morality police in Tehran for not respecting the strict dress code imposed by the regime – the refusal to sing the anthem of the Islamic Republic has become one of the most spectacular levers used by Iranian sportsmen to show their support for the movement.
On September 27, the national football team refused to sing this song before a friendly preparation match for the World Cup played in Austria against Senegal (1-1). Dressed in a black parka devoid of any crest and hiding the logo of their federation, the players remained silent, most with their heads bowed.
This symbolic gesture, sometimes coupled with the wearing of a black armband as a sign of mourning, has since been taken up by many other Iranian athletes during competitions abroad.
On November 6, during an international beach soccer tournament in Dubai, one of the most prestigious in the discipline, the Iranian team imitated the Time Melli, forcing state television to cut off the live broadcast.
Off the field, many athletes, retired or active, wrote messages of support for the protesters on social networks. Former Bayern Munich player Ali Karimi, who lives abroad and whose house was confiscated by the authorities, is one of the most active on this subject. He declined an invitation from the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and World Cup organizers to travel to Qatar to watch the competition, as did Iranian football legend Ali Daei.