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After the final whistle

After the final whistle

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Iran’s football team has been knocked out of the men’s World Cup, but their refusal to sing the national anthem means they may face repercussions back home. What will happen to them next?

A 6-2 loss. A 2-0 win. A 1-0 loss.

If all you knew about the Iranian football team were their results in this year’s World Cup, you would assume they’d had a pretty ordinary tournament. 

But before their first game, against England, a few days ago, they did something unbelievable.

[Clip of Iranian national anthem, with players remaining silent]

The entire team refused to sing Iran’s national anthem, a song from 1990 that praises the Islamic Republic, which currently runs the country.

“O Martyrs,” the anthem goes, “Your clamours echo in the ears of time. Enduring, continuing, and eternal. The Islamic Republic of Iran!”

It was a brave act of defiance, and a nod to what’s been going on back home.

Since September of this year, Iran has been rocked by protests. They were triggered by the death of a 22-year-old woman, who was arrested for not wearing her Muslim headdress correctly.

“It has been three months since the death of Mahsa Amini in Iran’s morality police’s custody. The protesters are unfazed by the brutal crackdown and even death sentences.”

WION news clip

Iran’s decision not to sing the national anthem was a show of solidarity with demonstrators back home. The country’s captain said as much ahead of the game.

“Before I go any further, I would like to give my condo lences to all bereaved families in Iran. They should know that we are with them. We support them and we sympathise with them.”

But it was a shortlived protest.

Because in their second game, the Iranian players did, half heartedly, sing the anthem. 

Why might they do that? Well, an Iranian security source told the news channel CNN that the families of the team were threatened with violence and torture if the players did not “behave”.  

An Iranian player not in the squad was detained back in Iran, in what was seen as another warning shot to the national team.

“He’s objected to the long-standing ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches. He’s also expressed sympathy for the family of the woman who died in police custody, Mahsa Amini.”

WFAA

The Iranian football team is in an unenviable position. 

On the one hand the players have fallen foul of the Islamic Republic, who have the power to make the life of any Iranian – and their family – a living hell.

On the other, their failure at the World Cup was celebrated by protestors who think they haven’t been vocal enough, with the team’s exit seen as a symbolic victory against the Islamic Republic.

[Clip of crowds celebrating Iran’s World Cup exit in Iran]

And what’s more the team has faced a barrage of questions from the media about conditions in Iran. Here’s the Iranian manager getting angry about it at the start of the tournament.

Reporter: “Are you ok representing a country, Iran, at this World Cup that is oppressive to the rights of women?”

Carlos Queiroz: “To what channel do you work?”

Reporter: “Sky.”

Carlos Queiroz: “How much do you pay me to answer that question? I think you should start to think about what’s happened with immigrants in England also.”

Exchange between Iranian manager and Sky reporter

Then there’s the fact that the Iranian team were playing while people close to them were at the heart of the turmoil back home. 

Earlier this week a 27 year old was shot dead by Iranian security forces after beeping his horn in support of the team’s exit from the World Cup.

One of his childhood friends was a midfielder who played in Iran’s final game, and who paid tribute to him online, writing that “some day the masks will fall, the truth will be laid bare”.

It’s little wonder that when Iran was knocked out of the World Cup, emotions ran high on the pitch. Several of the country’s players were inconsolable.

So what will happen to them next?

It’s hard to say, but their prominence is unlikely to give them a free ride.

Famous actresses and sports people have faced arrest over the past few weeks. In 2020, a wrestling champion was executed in the country despite a huge global outcry.

If the Islamic Republic does try to punish the World Cup team, there’s not much the players will be able to do to escape it.

Only nine of Iran’s 25-man squad play club football in their home country, but the national team has played four games in Iran this year. And the players are all likely to have family in Iran, a reality which is often weaponised by the Islamic Republic against Iranians overseas.

The Iranian football team landed back in Iran on Thursday, welcomed by hundreds of fans holding placards calling the players “soldiers of the country”.

The response of the Islamic Republic to their return might be different.

This episode was written and mixed by Xavier Greenwood.