DOHA: During both the lead-up to and the start of the FIFA World Cup, the discourse around a collective response to the ethical issues of Qatar hosting the tournament, as well as the actions of individual teams, has been more of an issue than the football itself.
Is protesting while still attending hypocritical? Is there a point to seemingly futile gestures like armbands? And if you are going to do something as a ‘protest’, is it still an act of protest if something as insignificant as a yellow card is going to stop you from doing it?
Regardless, on a day when several European teams backed down from wearing armbands in support of the LGBTQ+ community, Iranian players stood tall.
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In an act of defiance that will send shockwaves back home, every single player refused to sing the national anthem ahead of their World Cup opener against England.
It was one of the most powerful scenes in FIFA World Cup history, as the crowd in attendance roared as the realisation of what was taking place became apparent as the camera panned across the team during the anthem.
The silent protest was so moving that it left a female fan in tears in the stands.
The result didn’t go to plan and they were duly shellacked by a rampant England, who racked up a half dozen of goals – but there will undoubtedly be plenty of fallout from the team’s actions.
Iran is a nation in turmoil right now, as months of protests have followed the death of a young woman following her arrest by the nation’s morality police for not adhering to a dress code.
It’s not up to footballers to lead the charge against societal change, as Iran’s manager, Carlos Queiroz pointed out in his post-match press conference, but what we saw today was a welcome departure from the meek surrender of several European heavyweights – who had far less to lose, by doing far less.
“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.”
Regardless of the pressure, this won’t be forgotten.
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