Iranian players remain silent during the national anthem at the World Cup in clear protest against the Iranian regime | CNN

Doha, Qatar

Before the ball was kicked in the World Cup opener against England on Monday, Iran’s players made a powerful statement.

In what appeared to be a show of solidarity with the protesters back home, the players stood silently while Iran’s national anthem was played around Khalifa International Stadium before kick-off on Monday. The match ended in a 6-2 victory for England.

Protests, chaos and violence have rocked Iran in recent months and threatened the very nature of the country’s regime, which has been in power for more than 40 years.

The protests, which experts have cited as the most important since the establishment of clerical rule in the aftermath of the 1979 Iranian revolution, erupted after the death of Mohsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who died after being detained by Iran’s morality police, allegedly for failing to adhere to conservative dress codes in the country. country. Iranian security forces unleashed a violent response.

Before the start of the tournament, Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said he would allow the players to protest during their competition in Qatar.

Monday’s silent show of respect drew a boisterous response from Iranian fans, many of whom cheered the entire time. It is unclear if this supports players.

On the pitch, Iran couldn’t handle England’s quality as goals from Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling kept England out of sight by half-time.

The impressive Saka added his second goal in the second half, with further goals from Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish to complete the rout.

Iran gave its fans something to cheer about after Mehdi Taremi scored well to make it 4-1 and added a straight penalty at the end of injury time, but for many Iranian fans the result wasn’t the best. An important event of the day.

It speaks to the perilous nature of the political situation in Iran that many fans felt the need to hide their identity as they walked to the stadium for the Group B match.

Three Iranians spoke to CNN wearing hats, masks and sunglasses, none of whom felt comfortable mentioning their names for fear of repercussions in Iran.

One of them had giant scissors symbolizing the act of defiance that was spread in Iran by women cutting their hair. They said they were frightened by rumors that Iranian authorities had sent security to Qatar to monitor the fans, but said their safety was less important than the plight of their family and friends back home.

“We know the players are under tremendous pressure, and yet the Iranian people expect them to do something,” one fan told CNN.

In the wake of the protests and human rights abuses taking place in Iran, several groups inside and outside the country have called on FIFA, the global governing body for sport, to ban the country from participating in the World Cup.

In October, a group of prominent Iranian athletes pressured FIFA via a law firm, urging the governing body to suspend the Football Federation of Iran (FFIRI) and ban it from the World Cup.

The Ukrainian Football Federation also called on FIFA to “consider disqualifying” the Iranian national team, citing “systematic human rights violations” there and Iran’s “possible involvement in Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine”.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended Iran’s participation in the World Cup in his pre-tournament press conference, saying that the match against England is “two football teams” going head-to-head in matches rather than “two systems” or “ideologies”.

England also had to make a decision before their opening match. The Football Association and team captain Harry Kane said they would wear the “One Love” armband to promote integration and oppose discrimination.

However, just hours before kick-off, England joined several other nations in reversing their decision due to the risk of receiving yellow cards for wearing the armband.

Organizers had hoped that attention would shift from off-field issues to action on the field after the tournament kicked off. But just two days into the tournament, football has yet to take center stage.

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