The Iranian national team has toed a fine line between expressing support for protesters back home and risking serious repercussions from the regime for doing so. They have been criticized for not being more vocal about the regime’s violent suppression of dissent on the world stage, the Associated Press reported. Some also called out Ezatolahi for failing to mention that Samak was killed by security forces.
The team also faced criticism early on for meeting with and bowing to President Ebrahim Raisi before they traveled to Qatar for the World Cup. During the competition, however, the players appeared to cautiously express solidarity with protesters back home.
Ahead of its first match, team captain Ehsan Hajsafi acknowledged the oppression of Iranians back home, saying the “conditions in our country are not right.”
“We are here, but it does not mean that we should not be their voice or we must not respect them,” he said.
The teammates also stayed silent as the Iranian national anthem played at their first match against England, in what many interpreted as a show of support to protesters.
They were later threatened by the members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and told their families would face “violence and torture” if they participated in any political protest against the government, CNN reported, citing an anonymous source.
The team joined in singing the national anthem in their other two games, against Wales and then the US.