Iran refuse to sing national anthem in World Cup opener

The national team shows support for the anti-government protests taking place after Mahsa Amini’s death.

In a striking act of solidarity with protesters in Iran, the men’s national football team decided not to sing the national anthem in its opening World Cup game against England.

The unrest in Iran began in September when a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, died while in the custody of the morality police. Protests have since spread across the nation, challenging the authority of the government even as security forces have cracked down. Hundreds of people have died in the violence.

The decision not to sing the national anthem isn’t the first time the Iranian team has shown support for the protesters. In late September, the team opted to wear black jackets to cover the country’s colours in their friendly against Senegal.

Before flying out to Doha for the World Cup, the team met with President Ebrahim Raisi. The meeting didn’t go down well with protesters, and banners of the team were burned on the eve of the tournament.

Iran’s beach football, water polo and basketball teams have also recently refused to sing the national anthem. At a news conference on Wednesday, the captain of Iran’s football team, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, refused to confirm if his team would sing the anthem.

“That’s something that also has to be decided about in the team, which we already talked about and obviously everybody’s talking about,” he said.

Ahead of Monday’s game, some Iran fans in Qatar also signalled support for the protesters back home. They wore T-shirts saying, “Women, life, freedom”, which is the popular chant of the movement that has arisen since Amini’s death.

The decision by the football team to remain silent during the anthem on the sport’s biggest stage represents the boldest move so far from the country’s athletic stars. It is unclear whether players will face any consequences.

On Sunday, defender Ehsan Hajsafi became the first Iranian player at the World Cup to publicly speak out in support of the protests.

“They should know that we are with them and we support them and we sympathise with them regarding the conditions,” he said.

England also made a strong political gesture before kickoff by taking the knee in protest of racism and inequality. While they didn’t take the knee in their September friendlies, they’ve decided to do so ahead of every game they will play at the World Cup.

“We think it is a strong statement to go around the world for young people in particular to see that inclusivity is very important,” England manager Gareth Southgate said on Sunday.