Iranian football fans are openly cheering the defeat of their national team against England at the World Cup yesterday in yet another sign of protest at the authoritarian Islamic Republic.
Footage emerged overnight of a man sitting on the back of a moped, brandishing a huge Union Jack which streamed behind him as he rode through the streets of Tehran in the wake of his team’s 6-2 dismantling in Qatar.
‘People are happy because of England’s victory,’ the man who filmed the spectacle from his car said solemnly.
Elsewhere in the Iranian capital, thousands of people packed into residential high rises could be heard whistling and cheering as their team were routed, while another clip – blurred to protect the identity of those involved – showed protesters dancing in celebration following the defeat.
Such open disdain for Iran’s footballing campaign comes as widespread protests continue to rock the nation following the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody last month.
‘The protest movement has overshadowed the football,’ said Kamran, a linguistics professor who lives in the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran. ‘I want Iran to lose these games.’
Anusha, a 17-year-old whose Tehran high school has been rocked by protests, said the past few weeks of unrest had changed everything for her.
‘A few months ago I would have said of course I want Iran to win against England and America,’ she said. ‘Now, it’s strange. I really don’t care.’
Even as Iran’s national team perform on the world stage in Qatar, Iranian security forces continue to brutalise protesters.
More than 400 civilians are thought to have been killed since protests began in late September, with many more injured and arrested.
Iranian football fans are celebrating their national team’s heavy defeat to England at the World Cup
The man brandished a huge Union Jack from the back of his moped. The man filming the spectacle can be heard saying: ‘People are happy because of England’s victory’
Elsewhere in the Iranian capital, thousands of people packed into residential high rises could be heard whistling and cheering as their team were routed
One clip, blurred seemingly to protect the identity of those involved, showed protesters dancing in celebration following the defeat
(L-R) Morteza Pouraliganji, Milad Mohammadi and Roozbeh Cheshmi of Iran are pictured ahead of yesterday’s match vs. England. Iran’s players refused to sing the national anthem
Iran’s national team had signalled support for demonstrations taking place back home ahead of yesterday’s game, but made a bold statement by refusing to sing the anthem before the match
England dismantled Iran, routing them 6-2 in the opening game of their World Cup campaign yesterday (Marcus Rashford is pictured scoring England’s fifth goal)
Marcus Rashford (C) of England celebrates with teammates after scoring during the FIFA World Cup 2022 group B match between England and Iran at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar, 21 November 2022
Ahead of the game yesterday, Iran’s players refused to sing their national anthem and the music was met with a torrent of boos from fans in the stands, many of them Iranians holding banners and wearing shirts with anti-regime messages.
The squad stood stony-faced as the anthem played at the Khalifa International Stadium, in an apparent sign of solidarity with protests currently engulfing the country back home.
Meanwhile at yesterday’s press conference ahead of the game, Iranian team captain Ehsan Hajsafi delivered an exceptional speech in which he spoke out against the conditions to which the people living under Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and hardline President Ebrahim Raisi are subjected.
‘We have to accept that conditions in our country are not right & our people are not happy. They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathise with them regarding the conditions,’ Hajsafi declared.
England went on to demolish the Iranian team, scoring three goals in the first half before adding another three in the second.
Iran managed to bag two, one from the penalty spot in the 13th minute of extra time, but players refused to celebrate either goal.
Catherine Perez-Shakdam, a specialist in Iran at the Henry Jackson Society, told MailOnline that the team and fans will likely be ‘punished severely’ for such an open display of defiance against the regime.
‘The refusal by Iran’s football team not to sing the Islamic Republic’s national anthem will be a decision the players will pay for dearly.
‘Similarly, any Iranian fan identified by the regime for booing the anthem will also face being severely punished. This is the brutal reality of modern-day Iran.
‘Iran’s players may have forfeited more than just their freedom today; and their lives may not be the only ones on the line.
‘Indeed, the regime has demonstrated a particular propensity to target dissidents’ family members and in doing so deter others from voicing their opinions.
‘Given Iran’s horrendous track record, it stands to note that the players and fans who today shunned the regime, knew full well about risks they faced.
‘Such courage and dignity in the face of absolutism most certainly deserves our full recognition.’
Iran’s players refused to sing the national anthem as they lined up before their first game of the Qatar World Cup against Englandyesterday
Player stood stony-faced as the anthem played, while boos and jeers could be heard from the crowd behind them at the Khalifa International Stadium
Supporters sitting in the stands also stayed largely silent during the anthem, while boos and jeers also rang out in defiance of the regime
Protesters supporting the Iranian nation team were seen waving anti-regime banners in the stands yesterday in support of demonstrations that have been taking place in Iran for the last two months
Women attending the Iran vs England match in Qatar hold signs supporting protesters who are opposing the country’s theocratic rulers
Demonstrators in the crowd to watch Iran play England wave protest signs during the World Cup game taking place in Qatar
Iran has been wracked by more than two months of anti-regime demonstrations sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody after she was arrested for failing to wear a compulsory hijab.
Since then, near-daily marches have taken place calling for an end to the country’s strict interpretation of Islamic laws and the overthrow of the mullah’s regime.
News out of the country is limited amid widespread internet outages, but it is thought hundreds – if not thousands – of demonstrators have been killed by security forces in an increasingly violent crackdown.
Iran’s national team have signalled support for the protesters in recent weeks despite the likelihood of them facing harsh penalties when they return home from Qatar.
In an effort to restrict large gatherings, Iran has closed all football matches to the public since the protests erupted.
The reason for authorities’ fear became apparent as fans filtered into the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha on Monday.
Many Iran fans wore T-shirts or waving signs printed with the mantra of the uprising – ‘Woman, Life, Freedom.’
Others wore T-shirts bearing the names of female protesters killed by Iranian security forces in recent weeks.
The World Cup in Qatar, just a short flight across the Persian Gulf from Iran, has emerged as a rallying point for Iranian political mobilisation.
Protesters have even called on FIFA,football’s governing body, to prohibit Iran from competing in the tournament over restrictions on women in stadiums and the government’s crackdown.
Iranian protesters marching and chanting slogans in Piranshahr, in western Iran, during a funeral procession for a 16-year-old demonstrator killed the night before
Iran has been gripped by near-daily demonstrations against the ruling mullahs sparked by the death of a young woman in police custody after being arrested for failing to wear a headscarf
The question of whether to root for the national team has divided Iranians as the team becomes entangled in the country’s combustible politics.
Many now view support for the Iranian team as a betrayal of the young women and men who have risked their lives in the streets.
Others insist the national team, which includes players who have spoken out on social media in solidarity with the protests, is representative of the country’s people and not its ruling Shiite clerics.
The Iranian government, for its part, has tried to encourage citizens to support their team against Iran’s traditional enemies. Iran plays the United States on November 29 – a contentious showdown that last occurred at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Observers note that the players are likely facing government pressure not to side with the protests.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has urged his government to prepare for potential problems.
Iran International, the Saudi-financed Farsi news channel that heavily covers the Iranian opposition, reported that Qatari authorities barred its reporters from attending the World Cup under Iranian pressure.
Already, Iranian athletes have drawn enormous scrutiny. When Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed in South Korea without wearing her country’s mandatory headscarf, she became a lighting rod of the protest movement.
‘We’re waiting for them to show us they’re supporting the people in Iran,’ Azi, a 30-year-old Iranian fan living in Ottawa, Canada, said of the national team. ‘Some kind of sign, by any way they can.’