AL RAYYAN, Qatar, Nov 25 (Reuters) – Iran’s national soccer team sang during the playing of their national anthem at their second World Cup match against Wales on Friday after refraining from doing so in their opening game earlier this week in apparent support of protesters Home again.
Loud jeers were heard from Iranian supporters as the anthem played, with the team chanting quietly before going on to win 2-0, leading to euphoric celebrations outside the stadium as government supporters tried to drown out chants from opponents after the match.
Ahead of the match, several fans said security had prevented them or friends from taking symbols of support for the protesters into the stadium. One said he was detained. Another said security forces made him take off a T-shirt declaring “Women, Life, Freedom” – a slogan of the protests.
In the stadium, a woman held a football shirt with “Mahsa Amini – 22” printed on the back and blood-red tears painted under her eyes – in memory of the woman whose death in police custody ignited the protests more than two months ago.
Iranian authorities have responded with lethal force to quell the protests calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic, one of the boldest challenges to Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
After the match, jubilant Iranians danced and cheered as they poured out of the ground.
A few wore T-shirts commemorating Amini, who was arrested for allegedly flouting Iran’s strict dress code, or held banners declaring “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’S LIBERTY on their shirts and started singing over them. He was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with an image of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qassem Soleimani, a powerful Iranian general who was killed by a US drone strike in 2020.
The win sets the stage for a crucial match against the USA on Tuesday.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who is part of a hardline establishment that has condemned the protests as riots provoked 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 cut off the broadcast while the anthem was playing, Iranian state media reported that the players had sung on Friday and showed footage of pro-government fans in the stadium.
State television showed people celebrating in the streets of several cities across Iran.
Ahead of the World Cup, protesters had taken heart from apparent support from a number of Iranians national team who failed to sing the national anthem.
On Monday, ahead of their opening match against England, the players had been solemn and silent when the national anthem was played.
Iranian fans were in high spirits as the match approached, cheering around the stadium as their players emerged from the tunnel for warm-ups and letting out a roar when star striker Sardar Azmoun, who has spoken out in support of the protest movement, was announced. in the starting lineup.
Team Melli, as the soccer team is known, has traditionally been a huge source of national pride in Iran, but they have found themselves caught up in politics in the run-up to the World Cup, with anticipation over whether they would use soccer’s showpiece event as a platform for to get behind the protesters.
‘THE BEST MOMENT OF MY LIFE’
Before the game, a man in a shirt declared “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 security officers in blue.
A spokesman for the Supreme Organizing Committee referred Reuters to FIFA and Qatar’s list of banned items, but did not say which banned item he was carrying.
The rules prohibit items 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 made him and his father take off “Women, Life, Freedom” shirts, but his two siblings and mother were not told to remove theirs. “It was the best moment of my life – after all,” he told Reuters.
Iranian-American fan Shayan Khosravani, 30, told Reuters he had been detained by stadium security 10 minutes before kick-off.
He said he had been detained after he was told to put away pro-protest materials, which he did. But he was wearing a “Free Iran” shirt.
Additional reporting from Dubai Newsroom; Author: Tom Perry; Editing by Toby Chopra, Gareth Jones, William Maclean
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