The ongoing protests in Iran are shaking the national football team, whose preparation for the World Cup in Qatar (November 20 – December 18) is disrupted by the position to adopt in the face of the repression of the movement.
For the “Team Melli”, this World Cup on its doorstep, the sixth in its history, was already announced to be politically charged, with a meeting on November 29 against the United States, the sworn enemy, in group B.
A movement that is shaking the country
But the protest movement that has rocked the country since September 16 and the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, three days after she was arrested in Tehran for violating the dress code, has caught up with an influential national team in a country passionate about football. round.
During a Tuesday friendly match against Senegal, near Vienna in Austria, demonstrators gathered outside the stadium chanted slogans hostile to the Tehran authorities and called on national team players to support the ongoing movement in Iran.
“We are here to implore: please support us instead of opposing us”said Mehran Mostaed, one of the organizers of the rally. “Of course there are repercussions for a football player who expresses his support for the movement, because in Iran the consequences are really important for those who oppose the regime. But, clearly, they have to be ready to suffer the consequences”he added.
In fact, the players of the “Melli” wore a black parka devoid of any coat of arms and hiding the jersey of the national team at the time of the presentation of the teams against Senegal, without however giving any explanation for this gesture.
— The important (@Limportant_fr) September 28, 2022
“Shame on you”
More than any other, the statements of the star striker of the selection, Sardar Azmoun, who plays in the German club Bayer Leverkusen, are scrutinized.
Earlier this week, Iranian football bloggers posted screenshots of messages posted on Azmoun’s Instagram site, where the player opened up about the team blackout: “due to the restrictive rules on Team Melli, I can’t say anything”.
But the 27-year-old striker had apparently decided to ignore it for a while, believing that he could not remain silent in the face of the repression of the movement in Iran which left several dozen dead. “This cannot be erased from our conscience. Shame on you”, he published. His comment was later deleted and the contents of the player’s Instagram account, followed by some five million people, disappeared for several days.
“Shame on you for killing the people so easily and long live the women of Iran,” Iranian striker Sardar Azmoun wrote on his Instagram account. With his teammates, he added a symbolic action, before Iran’s match against Senegal. https://t.co/YqRCdu4mH2
— francetvsport (@francetvsport) September 28, 2022
“I apologize to my comrades”
After the friendly match with Senegal, where Azmoun, who came on in the second half, scored his side’s equalizer, his Instagram account however resurfaced and the player apologized for his stances.
“There was no pressure on me to write or delete a comment on Instagram”he explained, adding: “there is no division within Team Melli”. “I apologize to my national team mates as my hasty actions have drawn insults from bloggers towards them and disrupted peace and order within the team.”
Azmoun added another message in support of a women’s volleyball team in Gonbad-e Qabus, his hometown, noting that the death of Amini “left a pain in the heart of the nation that history will never forget”.
Mobilization of former glories
The demonstrators who claim the support of their national team can also count on the aura of the other great star of Iranian football, the former international striker Ali Karimi. The latter has multiplied the positions taken on social networks to support the current protest movement and denounce the death of Amini, believing that “nothing could erase this ignominy”. “I seek only the peace, comfort and well-being of people in all corners of the country”he justified himself.
These statements were followed by an article from the Fars news agency calling for his arrest and suggesting that his real estate in Iran could be seized. Other big names in Iranian football have followed suit, such as Mehdi Mahdavikia, former captain of the national team, who accused the authorities of“ignore the people”.
As for Ali Daei, a legendary player in his country, he urged the regime “to solve the problems of the Iranian people rather than resorting to repression, violence and arrests”.