Iran’s soccer team blanked 10-man Wales Friday as World Cup host Qatar prevented Iranian fans from expressing their support for the ongoing protests in their the country.
Iranian fans, who wanted to take flags other than the official one approved by the Islamic Republic to the Al Rayyan’s Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, were stopped by security officers. Many people were barred from carrying or waving Iran’s ancient flag with the Lion and Sun emblem or a simple three-color flag with the main motto of the current wave of protests – Woman, Life, Liberty.
Rebuking the Qatari police for such a close collaboration with the Islamic Republic, Iran International presenter Reza Mohaddes said that organizers of the event have even set up patrols during to match to stop and expel those who have managed to sneak in some flags or other symbols in solidarity with the protests back home.
He quoted officials of the Islamic Republic’s Football Federation as saying that in addition to the country’s officials and state media reporters, more than 22,000 free tickets -- about 7,000 per match --have been provided for the country’s cherrypicked supporters to go to Qatar from Iran. Masquerading as “cultural agents,” these people are mainly in charge of populating the stadiums carrying the regime’s flags or symbols.
Moreover, there are videos and photos of Bangladeshi and Pakistani citizens – reportedly workers who helped built Qatar’s stadiums under inhumane working conditions – paid to pose as Iranian football fans, carrying the Islamic Republic’s flags.
Another thing that has irked Iranians in the country and abroad is how the players cheered after their 2-0 victory against Wales, while almost none of the footballers playing at the country’s premier league cheer after scoring or winning in honor of the bereaved families of the protesters killed in the past 70 days.
Last month, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi expressed concern over possible problems that may happen during the FIFA World Cup, tacitly referring to people chanting slogans against the Islamic Republic during matches or players making statements about the situations in Iran. Earlier in November, he tasked the Foreign Ministry to contact Qatari officials regarding the issue to find ways “to predict and prevent possible problems."
Mohaddes added that Qatar is also cooperating with the Islamic Republic to better censor the broadcast of the matches. The Islamic Republic state broadcaster has always been censoring scenes from the spectators who were carrying placards or flags to show their opposition to the regime. The censorship also meant to block images of normally dressed women among spectators in matches that took place outside Iran.
However, it had to find innovative measures to keep airing the live matches, such as finding an insert shot that it deemed appropriate and replaying it whenever it wanted to censor the footage. But this time Qatar solved this problem for the Islamic Republic by providing a live clean long shot of the stadium to be used instead of close-up shots of flags or an expression of solidarity with the uprising.
Unlike their first match, this time the Iranian squad disregarded people’s feelings by singing along with the Islamic Republic anthem. Loud jeers were heard from Iranian supporters inside the stadium as the anthem played, with the team singing quietly along.
Numerous Iranian athletes have shown support for the protests. The Iranian football, beach football, water polo, basketball, and sitting volleyball teams refused to sing along with the anthem, which is customary in almost all international competitions. Authorities have made serious threats against athletes and other celebrities to stop them from public displays of solidarity with protesters but to no avail.
According to Mohaddes, Iranians expected Team Melli to do something more than staying silent during the anthem, especially after the arrest of popular footballer Vorya Ghafouri for his outspoken support for protesters, but players even did not repeat the banal gesture they did in their World Cup opener.
Team Melli players even disappointed people by refusing to talk about or even answer questions about the current situation in Iran on the eve of their match against Wales, claiming that they are not people of politics.
Team Melli should rather be called “the representatives of the Islamic Republic” as they can no longer be Iran’s national squad, Mohaddes noted.