The Khalifa International Stadium became abuzz with emotions ahead of Iran’s World Cup Group B opener against England as players refused to sign their national anthem in protest. Fans were photographed crying as stars from Iran stood in solidarity with the fight against the recent crackdown in their country that has grabbed headlines.
Carlos Queiroz’s team kick off their 2022 World Cup campaign against a backdrop of passionate global protests, adding to the political focus of the winter tournament in Qatar. The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini has sparked violent protests across the country, with millions of people joining the fight around the world.
Amini was in police custody after being arrested for violating the Islamic dress code before her death in September. Her tragic fate at the hands of Iran’s ruling regime intensified strong resentment and anger over the country’s oppression of women’s rights and freedom of expression.
Many argued that Iran should not have been allowed to compete in the World Cup amid bloody protests in reaction to Amini’s death. And ahead of England v Iran, the nation’s own supporters whistled and booed their own national anthem as players and staff stood silent, with some weeping at the show of solidarity.
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According to human rights watchdog groups, 348 protesters have been killed during protests against the Iranian government following Amini’s death, and another 15,900 have been detained by police. A court in the Iranian capital Tehran issued the first death sentence to a protester arrested earlier this week.
For many, the World Cup will be a welcome distraction from the gruesome scenes that have been unfolding in Iran for more than a year. But the nation’s participation is not without leaving a sour taste on the tongue, adding to the controversy that has already plagued the hosting of the tournament in Qatar.
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The Gulf state’s homosexuality laws and the treatment of immigrant workers who built the stadiums and other infrastructure have been at the center of attention in preparation for the tournament. Many workers died during construction, but only three deaths have been officially recorded.
Qatari women’s rights and freedom of expression have also been criticized, but the unrest over this year’s tournament stems from alleged corruption during the bidding process. Iran is likely to use their remaining two group games to continue the show of solidarity, and tensions are unlikely to cool down any time soon.
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