Iranian fans savor victory but argue over protests

RAYAN, Qatar, Nov 25 (Reuters) – Iran’s national football team sang its national anthem in their second World Cup match against Wales on Friday after failing to do so in their opening game earlier this week in apparent support for the protesters. back home.

Cheers were heard from Iran’s fans as the national anthem was played, as the team sang softly before claiming a 2-0 victory, sparking jubilant celebrations outside the stadium as government supporters tried to drown out their opponents’ post-match cheers.

Ahead of the match, several fans said that security prevented them or their friends from carrying symbols of support for the protesters onto the stadium. One of them said he was arrested. Another said that security forces forced him to take off a T-shirt that read “Women, Life, Freedom” – the slogan of the protests.

In the stadium, a woman held aloft a soccer jersey with “Mahsa Amini-22” printed on the back and red tears smeared under her eyes – in memory of the woman whose death in police custody sparked protests more than two months ago.

Iranian authorities have responded with deadly force to quell protests calling for the downfall of the Islamic Republic, one of the boldest challenges facing Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

After the match, jubilant Iranians danced and cheered as they poured from the ground.

A few wore T-shirts commemorating Amini, who was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code, or carried signs reading “Women, Life, Freedom”.

Fans waving the official Iranian flag tried to drown them out with their own cheers.

One of them walked up in front of a group of women with “WOMEN LIFE FREEDOM” on their shirts and started cheering them on. He was wearing a T-shirt with portraits of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Qassem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian general who was killed in a US drone strike in 2020.

The victory constitutes a decisive match against the United States on Tuesday.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, part of a hardline establishment that has condemned the protests as riots sparked by Iran’s enemies, praised the team for “bringing the sweetness of victory to the people of our country.”

Unlike on Monday, when Iranian state television was cut off from broadcasts during the national anthem, Iranian state media reported that the players sang on Friday, showing footage of pro-government fans in the stadium.

State television showed footage of people celebrating in the streets of several cities across Iran.

Ahead of the World Cup, protesters had been comforted by apparent offers of support from a number of Iran’s national teams who had refrained from singing the national anthem.

On Monday, before their opening match against England, the players were silent and restrained as the national anthem was played.

Iranian fans were in good spirits heading into the match, with big cheers around the pitch as their players emerged from the tunnel to warm up, and let out a roar as star striker Sardar Azmoun, who spoke in support of the protest movement, announced. in the starting lineup.

Team Melli, as the football team is known, has traditionally been a great source of national pride in Iran, but they have found themselves caught up in politics in the run-up to the World Cup, with speculation over whether to use the footballing great event as a platform to get behind the protesters.

The best moment of my life

A Reuters witness said that before the match, a man wearing a T-shirt reading “Women, Life, Freedom” was escorted to the stadium by security agents.

Reuters could not immediately confirm why the man was accompanied by three security officers wearing blue uniforms.

A spokesman for the Supreme Organizing Committee referred Reuters to FIFA and Qatar’s list of prohibited items, but without mentioning the prohibited item he was carrying.

The rules prohibit items that contain “political, offensive, or discriminatory messages.”

The media liaison officer at the stadium affiliated with the International Federation of Football Associations (FIFA) did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while the media director at the stadium was not aware of the facts, but he will respond later.

Payam Selgojian, 36, a US-based lawyer, said security forces made him and his father take off their “Women, Life, Freedom” T-shirts but his two brothers and his mother were not asked to take off their T-shirts. “It was the best moment of my life, after all,” he told Reuters.

Iranian-American fan Shayan Khosrvani, 30, told Reuters that he was detained by stadium security 10 minutes before kick-off.

He said he was arrested after he was asked to put the material in favor of the protest, and he did. But he was wearing a “Free Iran” shirt.

Additional reporting from the Dubai newsroom; Written by Tom Perry. Editing by Toby Chopra, Gareth Jones, and William MacLean

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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