Iran stage extraordinary protest against national anthem at World Cup

Iranian players Ahmad Noorollahi, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Mehdi Taremi are pictured during the national anthem.
Iran opted to remain silent instead of singing their national anthem prior to their first World Cup match, in support of widespread protests back home. (Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)

Iran's football team has made an incredibly brave stand at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, opting not to sing their national anthem in support of widespread protests taking place back home.

Ahead of their opening World Cup match against England, players stood side by side and remained silent for their anthem, lead by team captain Eshan Hajsafi.

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Months of protests have been sparked in Iran after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini on September 16, who died in the custody of Iran's morality police in Tehran after being alleged to have breached the strict Islamic dress code.

Women in Iran have led the stunning protests in defiance of the dress code, which has sparked increasingly heavy-handed crackdowns and arrests from police.

Human rights groups have reported as many as 450 people have been killed by Iranian security forces since protests began in September, with former Iranian football player and coach Ali Karimi calling for Iranians to continue taking to the streets.

In an interview before kickoff, Hajsafi remarked 'in the name of the god of rainbows' - a phrase which has come to prominence as words often spoken by Kian Pirfalk, a 10-year-old boy killed by Iranian forces amid the protests.

Footage showed some boos in the stadium as Iran's players remained silent for their anthem, however their protest also had support, with signs reading 'Women, life freedom' held up by some spectators.

The players' protest in solidarity with women in their country won them widespread praise.

Iran lost the match 6-2, but the team's coach Carlos Queiroz said it was impossible to expect his players to be singularly focused on football given the unrest back home.

“It is not right to come to this World Cup and ask them to do things that are not their responsibility. They want to bring pride and joy for the people,” Queiroz said.

“You don’t even imagine behind the scenes what these kids have been living in the last few days, just because they want to express themselves as footballers.

“Of course we have feelings and beliefs and in due time, at the right moment, we will express them."

Iran support protests at home amid FIFA storm in Qatar

Iran's protests comes as even captains of European nations had planned to wear OneLove armbands at the World Cup in Qatar, a nation where same-sex relations are illegal.

The captains wanted to wear the armbands to promote inclusion and diversity in soccer and society, but under a FIFA edict delivered on Monday, the captains would have received yellow cards if they wore the armbands during games.

Australian gay footballer Josh Cavallo says FIFA has shown his sport isn't for everyone by vowing to penalise players wearing anti-discrimination armbands at the World Cup.

"FIFA you have lost my respect," Cavallo posted on social media.

"All the work we're doing to make football more inclusive you have shown that football isn't a place for everyone."

The 'One Love' armband is seen being work by a player.
Players from several European nations had planned to don 'One Love' armbands in protest of the criminalisation of homosexuality in Qatar. (Photo by Alex Livesey - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

England's Harry Kane, the Netherlands' Virgil van Dijk and Wales' Gareth Bale were due to wear the OneLove armbands in Monday's games.

The captains of Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark were also expected to wear the armbands in the coming days.

But the seven European federations released a joint statement after the FIFA edict, saying they would not wear the armbands.

"As national federations we can't put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions, including bookings," the statement said.

Former England defender Rio Ferdinand criticised the backdown from the seven nations.

"First bump in the road and they have folded like a pack of cards," he told the BBC.

But German federation president Bernd Neuendorf said the move was an "outrageous demonstration of power from FIFA."

With AAP

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