Still in the grip of an uninterrupted wave of protests since the death of Mahsa Amini, Iran begins its World Cup against England on Monday, with a team crossed by inevitable divisions and political tensions.
At least 326 people have been killed in the crackdown on protests in Iran, according to estimates by the NGO Iran Human Rights. A huge popular revolt which was driven by the country’s youth and triggered the death of Masha Amini, probably murdered on September 16 by the Persian morality police, for an allegedly badly worn veil.
Azmoun and the others
While the Iranian street has not stopped burning since then, the Team Melli begins its World Cup against England on Monday in an obviously heavy atmosphere. The star striker of the selection, Sardar Azmoun, had courageously condemned at the end of September the deadly crackdown on demonstrations ordered by the Islamic Republic. Other players have more or less openly chosen their side. Some, like Captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh, claim to be able to protect themselves from the political context: “We are here to do our duty, and our duty is to play football. For example, whether or not to celebrate our goals is a personal decision, specific to each player. » The celebration of his goal scored against Uruguay in a friendly match on September 23 had notably earned FC Porto striker, Mehdi Taremi, to be taken down in good standing on social networks. “Many people did not appreciate seeing him show his joy at all, when the country is in such pain” , confirms Saman Javadi, an Iranian fan who maintains the Iran #TeamMelli Twitter account, dedicated to the selection of his country. Not insignificant, while the very decision to play the World Cup is not easy for some Iranians, like the former international goalkeeper Sosha Mokani: “It’s the Islamic Republic team and not the Iranian people’s team. FIFA should exclude him from the World Cup. »
Torabi-Amiri: the good soldiers of the regime
This puts de facto the players of the selection in a delicate position, while the slightest of their actions is scrutinized and analyzed in the country. “In a way, it’s pretty unfair to themcontinues Javadi. They still play a World Cup, but many people expect them to display solemnity and seriousness. » A context that is already hitting the system of Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz, who left a press conference on November 16 after an English journalist questioned him about “his role as coach of a country that does not respect women’s rights” . The players, themselves, are already obviously not united. The boldest have condemned the actions of the Islamic Republic, others have opted for a more neutral attitude, while a third category has purely and simply chosen to support the regime of the Mullahs. This is the case of internationals Mehdi Torabi and Vahid Amiri, who sang the anthem of the Iranian selection on November 10 against Nicaragua, while their teammates had preferred to remain silent. The two players, who play in Persepolis – one of the two biggest clubs in the country – are not at their first attempt. They were notably the only players of their formation not to have worn a black armband to denounce government violence in the final of the Supercup of Iran, against Tractor Sports Club, at the beginning of October. In 2019, Torabi was also seen supporting the government of Tehran, which was in the grip of a popular revolt caused by a conflagration in fuel prices. After scoring a goal, the winger unveiled a T-shirt that read: “The only way to save our country is to obey its leaders. » Difficult, therefore, to imagine that the Iranian selection will display unfailing cohesion in the weeks to come. The mark of a team which, in the event of a good run at the current World Cup, should not cease to arouse contradictory feelings.
By Adrien Candeau
Statement by Saman Javadi collected by AC