HomeSportsIranian protesters celebrate World Cup defeat as players' return is feared

Iranian protesters celebrate World Cup defeat as players’ return is feared


Iran’s World Cup defeat to the United States was met with cheers and revelry in Tehran and other Iranian cities on Tuesday night, as protesters hailed the country’s exit from the tournament as a blow to the ruling regime.

The country was then eliminated from the tournament in Qatar Lost 1-0 on Tuesdayending a campaign overshadowed by anti-government protests that had raged domestically for months.

But there are concerns about the safety of Iranian players returning home across the Persian Gulf after the team initially refused to sing Iran’s national anthem before their first game in an apparent show of solidarity with protesters. The families of the team were too threatened with imprisonment and torture before the game, said a source involved in the security of the games.

People in several Iranian cities celebrated from their homes and residential buildings shortly after the final whistle, which fell in the early hours of Wednesday local time, as videos posted on social media showed people honking their cars, chanting and whistling.

“I’m happy, this is the government losing to the people,” a witness to celebrations in a town in the Kurdish region, which CNN is not naming for security reasons, told CNN on Wednesday.

Norway-based Iranian rights group Hengaw posted several videos of similar scenes. “People in Paveh are celebrating the defeat of the Iranian national team against America at the World Cup in Qatar, they are singing ‘Down with Jash (traitors)’,” Hengaw said in a message.

Demonstrations rocked Iran for several months, leading to a deadly crackdown by the authorities. The nationwide uprising was first sparked by the death of Mahsa (aka Zhina) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in mid-September after being detained by the country’s vice squad. Since then, protesters across Iran have united over a range of grievances with the regime.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, has said the country is in a “full-fledged human rights crisis” as authorities crack down on the protests.

Football has become an increasingly heated focal point in recent weeks, with the World Cup throwing the country’s turmoil into the global spotlight.

And fans who follow the team in Qatar have become increasingly conflicted about their support. “Our team has been hijacked,” longtime fan Farshad Soheil told CNN. “It no longer represents the people of Iran.”

Soheili said the Iranian regime has succeeded in politicizing and arming the team, and was critical of the players for not making a grander statement about the protests. “It was a missed historic opportunity,” Soheili said.

Before Tuesday’s game, many supporters said they did not want Iran to win. “The reason is not because of football reasons, [but] because of political reasons,” another fan named Farshid – who withheld his last name for security reasons – told CNN in Doha.

“I have mixed emotions and feelings,” Farshid said. “I am a passionate supporter of Iran, but unfortunately today I cannot be a supporter of the national team due to the current situation and the government trying to hijack the game and the sport and using it as a platform to buy credibility and see that everything is normal (with) what is going on in Iran.”

Farshid said many regime supporters have also attended Iran’s World Cup matches in Doha and created a very tense atmosphere for other Iranian fans by trying to disrupt their interviews with the media.

Iran’s national side would have progressed to the second round of the World Cup with a win or a draw against the US, but the team is now traveling home after exiting the group stage.

“I’m sorry on behalf of our players, our group, that we couldn’t get our chance to qualify for the next round,” midfielder Saeid Ezatolah told reporters after the game. “I hope our fans and our people in Iran forgive us. And I’m just sorry, that’s it.

The team’s return will be closely watched amid fears the players could face retaliation for an alleged brief statement of support for the protests, which drew international attention and praise from human rights groups.

The country’s flag and anthem have been rejected by protesters as symbols of the current regime. And following the refusal of Iranian players to sing Iran’s national anthem in their opening match against England on November 21, a source involved in the security of the games has told CNN that the players were summoned to meet with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The source said they were told their families would face “violence and torture” if they failed to sing the national anthem or if they joined a political protest against Tehran’s regime.

The players sang the national anthem on Tuesday and ahead of their second match against Wales last Friday, in which Iran won 2-0.

Hours before Tuesday’s game, Iranian authorities said a former member of the national football team, Parviz Boroumand – who was arrested this month for criticizing the government – had been released on bail, state news agency IRNA said.

Boroumand was arrested in mid-November during protests in Tehran, Iranian media reported. Earlier on Tuesday, Iranian-Kurdish footballer Voria Ghafouri was also released on bail.

Iranian football legend Ali Karimi, dubbed the “Asian Maradona,” meanwhile, has said he has received death threats from his relatives after vocally supporting protests.

The government has described him as one of the “key leaders” of the demonstrations and issued an arrest warrant against him in early October, accusing him of “aligning with the enemy” and “encouraging riots”, according to Iran’s Supreme Council for the judiciary. , both charges carrying the death penalty.

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