Iran players pose for a team group photo before their last match at the AFC Asian Cup in Doha, Qatar, February 7, 2024.

Football Loss To Qatar Highlights Deep Divisions Among Iranians

Friday, 02/09/2024
Maryam Sinaiee

A British Iranian journalist and political analyst and a regular contributor to Iran International

Iran’s defeat to Qatar in Asian Cup 2024 soccer tournament has once again underscored the profound rift among Iranians, some of whom rejoiced over the national team’s loss.

Qatar, the host of the games, beat Iran 3-2 in semi-finals in Doha on Wednesday. In the aftermath of the match, some Iranians took to the streets in cities like Sanandaj, Javanroud, Ahwaz, and Qazvin, celebrating with singing and dancing. Meanwhile, on social media platforms, others exchanged congratulations over the team's loss, expressing a disassociation from a squad they no longer perceive as their own, branding it as the "Mullahs' team."

Cars honking in Sanandaj after the national team’s loss against Qatar

“The team of the mullahs lost and now its supporters ​​are saying those who are happy about the loss of their country's team are not [patriotic] Iranians. The answer to them is that this team is not the ‘national’ team and will never be,” an X post said. “There is a sea of blood between you and us that will never dry up before you are gone.”

Some other Iranians accused the opponents of the national team of not being patriotic.

“Although we lost, the Iranian flag still flies high, carried by the resounding chants of the Islamic Iran's glorious national anthem on the lips of our Iranian cheetahs [= squad]... Let's not forget that just last [Iranian] year, following Iran's defeat, the unpatriotic slaves [of the enemies] were cheering loudly,” one of them wrote on X, referring to protesters celebrating the team's exit from the FIFA 2024 World Cup in Doha amidst the Woman, Life, Freedom movement.

people rejoicing the national soccer team’s loss in Javanroud

The unsympathetic attitude of those who celebrated the once popular squad was a reaction to what they believe is the team members’ lack of solidarity with protesters.

Other athletes in 2022-2023 had reacted to the regime’s suppression of protesters by refusing to sing along with the national anthem or cheer at international competitions as did the volleyball, beach football, water polo, and basketball teams despite authorities’ threats. Most of the soccer squad did the same before one match, but were apparently intimidated into silence and submission after that.

People dancing in Qazvin and honking cars

“We are completely different from the rest of the world in two ways: Firstly, we are the only people who wish to return to their past. Secondly, we are the only people who rejoice the loss of their country's sports teams. There is only one reason for this: Hatred of the regime,” one of the many comments on X said.

Another post responded to those who say people of other countries would never rejoice over their national teams’ loss by arguing that other countries would not shoot down civilian airliners, as did the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) on January 8, 2020, or kill teen protesters such as Nika Shakarami and Sarina Esmaeilzadeh, and claim they had committed suicide, as the regime did during the 2022 protests.

People honking cars and chanting in Shelangabad neighborhood of Ahwaz

However, this was not always the case. Since the FIFA World Cup matches of 1998, it had been a tradition to take to the streets to celebrate the national soccer team's victories, but fans and others had never "celebrated" the team's losses before.

At the height of the Woman, Life, Freedom protests of 2022, however, thousands took to the streets in various Iran cities on November 29 to celebrate the national soccer team’s elimination from the World Cup in a match against the United States.

The squad of the DR of Congo protesting to armed violence in their country

Security forces responded harshly to this unprecedented reaction from the populace and a young man, Mehran Sammak, was shot in the head in the northern city of Anzali while honking his car like many other protesters.

"This is how a national team should act," another post remarked, citing the protest action of the Democratic Republic of Congo's national team members. They covered their mouths and formed their fingers into a gun, placing it against their temples during the national anthem to raise awareness of the armed violence in their country.

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