“Jubilation with sadness”, the paradox of the Iranian fans at the World Cup

“Jubilation with sadness”, the paradox of the Iranian fans at the World Cup

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Doha (AFP) – A tear-stricken spectator watches as Iran’s players stop singing the national anthem. The hard-pressed protest movement in the country reached ‘Team Melli”s first game of the World Cup on Monday, which ended in a 6-2 defeat by England.

Captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who plays for Dutch club Feyenoord, was asked about his support for the protesters this week and said the decision would be taken collectively.

That’s how it went. The eleven players stood straight, impassive and neutral-faced as their anthem blared through the Khalifa International Stadium.

The exception was a member of the delegation, in a suit and on the bench of the stadium.

Iran has been hit by a wave of protests since the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman jailed for violating a strict dress code that requires women to wear a headscarf in public been recorded.

Iran's players listen to the national anthem before the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and Iran on November 21, 2022 at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
Iran’s players listen to the national anthem before the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and Iran on November 21, 2022 at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. FADEL SENNA AFP

“Freedom, freedom!”

According to a report by the NGO Iran Human Rights (IHR) released on Saturday, repression by the authorities has claimed 378 lives and almost 15,000 people have been arrested by the authorities.

Iranian fans watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and Iran on a giant screen at the Garden of Books in Tehran on November 21, 2022 in the Iranian capital.
Iranian fans watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and Iran on a giant screen at the Garden of Books in Tehran on November 21, 2022 in the Iranian capital. ATTA KENARE AFP

Among the thousands of fans present in Doha, some came from Iran (Tehran is a three-hour flight away) and others came from the diaspora, like Sam, 34, who came with other friends from San Francisco.

The group wore T-shirts with the slogan “Woman Life Freedom” which leaves no doubt as to their position against the current regime of the Islamic Republic.

“This game is an opportunity for us to support people who are giving their lives for freedom. We can play a small part, it’s not a big deal, but it’s the only thing we can do at the moment,” Sam explained before entering the stadium. , without his shirt attracting the attention of security personnel.

This motto, a symbol of revolt, also appeared on a banner unfurled at the stadium before the start of the game. Then it disappeared.

Rose, 38, was less fortunate: “They asked me to change my shirt because it said ‘Free Iran’.”

According to the AFP journalists present, nothing happened in the 22nd minute. Many Iranians had taken to social media to encourage people to chant Mahsa Amini’s name, as she was 22 when she died on September 16.

Yes, chants of ‘Azadi, Azadi!’ (Freedom, freedom!’) from the stands.

Saeid Sharifi, 46, traveled from Tehran: “We are not satisfied with the situation in Iran, but it is our duty to support the national team.”

Iranian fans watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and Iran on a giant screen at Tehran's National Library in the Iranian capital on November 21, 2022.
Iranian fans watch the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group B football match between England and Iran on a giant screen at Tehran’s National Library in the Iranian capital on November 21, 2022. ATTA KENARE AFP

“We came to support, we are sad, but we are here to encourage. We rejoice with sadness,” summarized Masud Hashemi, 44.

In the Iranian capital, almost 200 people gathered in front of a huge screen next to the national library to watch the meeting, including young Farzid (21 years old). “I’ve always supported the national team, but not this time because the players didn’t support the people. I’m not upset about the national team’s defeat this time.”

Protests in London

Outside Doha, in England, the game was about which team should cheer on the Brits-Iranians.

British-Iranian women take part in a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in central London on November 19, 2022 ahead of Iran's match against England at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
British-Iranian women take part in a demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster in central London on November 19, 2022 ahead of Iran’s match against England at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. ISABEL INFANTES AFP

A group of women of dual backgrounds, many of them anti-regime activists in Tehran, gathered at a west London pub to watch the game and use it as an opportunity to protest.

When the TV screens showed the Iranian anthem, they turned and whistled. They have planned similar actions in the other games of the Persian team.

“It’s very confrontational,” said artist Fari Bradley, an Iranian-born British national who has lived in the country since the late 1970s. She wears a T-shirt that reads “Iran” and the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom.”

“We shouldn’t support the team because the regime is using it,” he said of the conflict of interest presented to him.

After the game, the Iranian coach, Portuguese Carlos Queiroz, took the floor. “It’s not right to come to this World Cup and ask them to do things that aren’t their responsibility. They want to bring pride and joy to people,” he said of the pressure his group is under.

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