I’m RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here’s what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching for in the days ahead.
( RFE/ RL ) – A growing number of Iranian athletes are refusing to sing the national anthem or to celebrate their victories in solidarity with the months-long anti-establishment protests that have rocked the country. Female athletes have also removed or refused to wear the mandatory head scarf in national and international competitions.
Videos uploaded on social media appear to show members of Iran’s national basketball, soccer, and water polo teams recently refusing to sing the national anthem during matches abroad. An Iranian archer, meanwhile, appeared to remove her head scarf following a tournament in Tehran. She later apologized and said it was unintended, although some suggested she was pressured to do so. Last month, Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed without a head scarf in South Korea, although she also later apologized.
Iranian soccer legend Ali Daei said he refused an invitation from FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, to attend the World Cup in Qatar because he wanted to “stay alongside my compatriots and share my condolences to families who have recently lost their loved ones.” Another outspoken former player, Ali Karimi, also declined an invitation from FIFA, saying, “Iranians are going through a very difficult time.”
A cleric in the northwestern city of Urmia said during Friday Prayers that athletes who refused to sing the national anthem should be “punished,” state media reported. Meanwhile, Iran’s deputy sports minister, Maryam Kazemipur, conceded that some female athletes have acted against “Islamic norms,” although she said they had since apologized.
Why It Matters: The acts of solidarity show that support among Iranian athletes is growing for the anti-government protests, which have triggered a deadly government crackdown. The demonstrations, the biggest challenge to the clerical regime for years, have attracted support from all corners of society, including students, artists, lawyers, and activists.
The support of well-known athletes and sports figures has further publicized the protests and the brutal government response that has killed at least 330 people. Some 14,000 people have also been arrested in the crackdown, including athletes.
Sky Sports News: “Iran players remain silent during their national anthem at the World Cup”
What’s Next: More athletes are likely to publicly show their support for the protesters in the coming weeks, including during the soccer World Cup that kicks off on November 20 in Qatar. The Iranian national team includes several players who have criticized the authorities over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died on September 16 shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law. Her death was the catalyst for the protests.
Activists have called on soccer fans attending the World Cup to chant Amini’s name during Iran’s games. FIFA does not allow political slogans and gestures at soccer matches. Carlos Queiroz, the coach of Iran’s national soccer team, said his players are free to voice their support for the protests as long as they adhere to FIFA’s rules.
Via RFE/ RL
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