Iran’s national soccer team made a powerful statement on Monday during its first game at the 2022 World Cup.
The players remained silent when their country’s national anthem played ahead of their match against England in Qatar. Observers speculated the move was meant to show solidarity with ongoing anti-government protests at home.
“The reaction from Iranian supporters to their own national anthem was telling,” a commentator can be heard saying in one clip. “It was overwhelming, and not in favor.”
The commenter was likely referring to Iranian fans in the stands who booed during their national anthem, which other social media posts captured.
Mass protests erupted in Iran in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. The young woman was arrested on Sept. 13 for allegedly wearing a hijab too loosely, which went against the country’s strict religious dress code for women. Witnesses say she was beaten by police, and she died in custody days later.
The government mandate that women cover up in public wasn’t as stringently enforced under the more moderate former President Hassan Rouhani. But the country’s “morality police” have become more aggressive towards women since President Ebrahim Raisi was elected last year.
Since Amini’s death, anti-government protests for women’s rights have swept the nation and morphed into a movement. Demonstrations are led largely by teenage girls and women, who have opted to go outside without hijabs, have burned the garments, and recorded and shared videos of police violence.
Iranian soccer players demonstrated their support for the protests before their seeming show of solidarity at the World Cup. Many players on the team have changed their social media photos to black, CNN reports.
Team captain Ehsan Hajsafi said in a press conference Sunday that Iranians are “not happy.”
“We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” he said, per the Guardian. “We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we must not respect them.”