Iran World Cup squad refuse to sing national anthem in protest, leaving fans in tears | Football | Sport

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The Khalifa International Stadium became a cauldron of emotion ahead of Iran’s World Cup Group B opener against England as players refused to sign their national anthem in protest. Fans were pictured in tears as Iran’s stars stood in solidarity with the fight against recent repression in their country that has grabbed headlines.

Carlos Queiroz’s side kick-start their 2022 World Cup campaign ahead of a backdrop of passionate global protests, adding to the political focus of the winter tournament in Qatar. The death of 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini has triggered violent protests nationwide, with millions joining the fight across the world.

Amini was in police custody after being arrested for a breach of the Islamic dress code before her death in September. Her tragic fate at the hands of Iran’s ruling regime intensified strong resentment and fury over the oppression of women’s rights and freedom of expression in the country.

Many argued that Iran shouldn’t have been allowed to compete in the World Cup altogether amid the bloody protests in reaction to Amini’s demise. And ahead of England vs Iran, the nation’s own supporters whistled and booed their own national anthem while players and staff stayed silent, with some brought to tears by the show of solidarity.

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According to human rights monitoring groups, 348 protestors have been killed during protests against the Iranian government after Amini’s death, with a further 15,900 detained by police. A court in the Iranian capital, Tehran, issued the first death sentence to an arrested protestor earlier this week.

For many, the World Cup will come as a welcome distraction from the horrendous scenes unfolding across Iran for over a year. But the nation’s participation doesn’t fail to leave a sour taste on the tongue, adding to the controversy that has already plagued Qatar’s hosting of the tournament.

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The Gulf state’s homosexuality laws and treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums and other infrastructure have taken the main spotlight in the build-up to 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 come under fire, but the ill feeling towards this year’s tournament has stemmed from alleged corruption during the bidding process. Iran will likely use their remaining two group games to continue the show of solidarity, with tensions unlikely to simmer anytime soon.

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