Defender Ehsan Hajsafi on Sunday became the first member of Iran’s national team to speak out from the FIFA World Cup in Doha in apparent support of anti-government protests at home, saying players should be the voice of those suffering.
More than two months of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman while in custody of the country’s morality police, have created one of the boldest challenges to its clerical leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Iran’s national team has been in the spotlight in the run-up to the World Cup in Qatar, with anticipation over whether players will use football’s showpiece event as a platform to show solidarity with the protest movement.
“They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathise with them regarding the conditions,” Hajsafi, who plays for AEK Athens, told a news conference.
“We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” he said. “We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we should not respect them.”
The wave of unrest erupted in September after Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini died in custody of the morality police for wearing clothes deemed “inappropriate”. Iran’s government blames foreign enemies for the crisis.
At least 92 killed in Iran’s Mahsa Amini protests: rights group
Women carry banners during a protest over the death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in Iran, in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli, northeastern Syria on 26 September, 2022
Some Iranian sportsmen and women have made gestures seen by protesters as shows of support, including not singing the national anthem or celebrating victories on the field.