Home turmoil swirls over Iran squad ahead of World Cup

GENEVA (AP) — Political issues swirl around Iran’s men’s soccer team amid turmoil on the streets at home just weeks before the World Cup where they will face the United States, the Wales and England.

At home in Iran, two weeks of protests and a violent crackdown by state authorities followed the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, in police custody. She had been detained for allegedly wearing a compulsory headscarf that was too loose.

Players protested silently during a World Cup warm-up match this week, where Iran’s football federation tried to silence fans by barring them from the stadium in Austria.

The federation also attempted this month to arrange a November warm-up match with Russia, Iran’s military ally whose teams have been pariahs in football since the invasion of Ukraine.

FIFA was pressed on Friday by long-time campaigners for the right of female fans to attend matches in Iran to expel the national team from the World Cup.

“The authorities of the Islamic Republic and its football federation must not have the honor of participating in the finest football tournament as it kills its citizens in our streets,” said the Open Stadiums group.

Open Stadiums called on FIFA to uphold its statutory commitment to respect and strive to promote “all internationally recognized human rights”.

Football’s governing body did not immediately comment on the fan request.

FIFA has already expelled Russia from this World Cup – imposing a ban ahead of a European qualifier semi-final in March against Poland – but without citing human rights grounds. Instead, FIFA cited “irreparable and chaotic” damage to the World Cup due to security risks and potential opponents likely refusing to play against Russia.

Iran are certainly set to play the World Cup in Qatar, their close neighbor across Persian Gulf waters, although the likelihood has risen this week of political disruption for FIFA to deal with at the tournament from Tuesday. November 20.

The players have taken a stand after being criticized for not reacting to Amini’s death days later in their first warm-up match in Austria.

On Sunday, striker Sardar Azmoun wrote to his 4.9 million Instagram followers that team rules forbid comments “but I can’t tolerate silence anymore”.

He added that being kicked out of the team would be “a small price to pay for even a single lock of Iranian woman’s hair”.

A team-wide reaction followed on Tuesday when the Iranian anthem played ahead of the game against Senegal. Each player wore a plain black jacket that covered their national team badge.

The match was played without fans in the stadium near Vienna, as the federation tried to stop protesters outside using a dissenting platform which would be seen live at home.

Star striker Mehdi Taremi later wrote on Instagram that he was “ashamed” to see Iranian videos of violence against women in the streets.

Protesters in Iran have also targeted a broader crackdown with calls for the overthrow of the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Football edged closer to Iranian turmoil the same week FIFA President Gianni Infantino claimed progress for female fans at a World Trade Organization event in Geneva.

“Women now attend football matches in Iran, which was not possible a few (months) ago,” Infantino said on Tuesday, when he also visited human rights officials. of the United Nations a few hours before the demonstration of the Iranian players in Austria.

Infantino’s claim was disputed by Open Stadiums who said that “when the Islamic Republic claimed to open league matches for women, it was far from the equality required by FIFA’s own statutes”.

“At first, very few women could buy tickets, then in a humiliating way they were physically harassed by the Iranian morality police,” the activist group said.

The tension between FIFA and Iranian fans persists despite some successes at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

FIFA stepped in four years ago to ensure fans could display their campaign banners in stadiums.

Greater cooperation could be called for in Qatar, as Iran have a global following to face England in the tournament’s second match on November 21.

Coach Carlos Queiroz’s side will also face Wales in Group B on November 25 and four days later against the United States.


John Duerden in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report


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