World Cup protest: As Iranian state media (not) reported

Silence at the national anthem
A silent protest that should remain unseen: As Iranian state media (not) reported

Iran's players stand in front of the oversized World Cup trophy during the national anthem

Iran’s players stand in front of the oversized World Cup trophy during the national anthem

© Han Yan/XinHua/DPA

The Iranian internationals caused a stir at the World Cup by refusing to sing their country’s national anthem. Only her silent protest could not be seen, at least not on national state television.

When the national anthem of their country was played, they remained silent: Team Melli, as Iran’s national soccer team is also known, refused to sing on Monday before their opening game at the World Cup in Qatar against England (the star reported). The gesture was widely taken as an acknowledgment, and sometimes as a show of solidarity, with the popular uprisings in the Islamic Republic that have been raging across the country for weeks.

The silent protest could not be seen, at least not on Iranian state television, which censored the scenes. The audio track was also apparently interrupted during the game, during which protest calls from Iranian fans could be heard several times. Almost immediately after the game ended, internet access in the country was severely restricted.

The regime has responded since the beginning of the protests against the leadership in Iran, which were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody extreme harshness and censorship against the ongoing demonstrations.

According to several reports, Iranian state television showed neither the silence of the Iranian squad during the national anthem nor the dissident protest actions of the fans present. The pro-government news agency Fars also mentioned the protest in its detailed coverage of the game, which Iran lost 6-2, a report by the “Guardians” according to not a word.

World Cup protest censored on Iranian state TV

As “The Athletic” The transmission of the national anthem was interrupted halfway through, citing several people in Iran who, for security reasons, wished to remain anonymous.

Accordingly, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), responsible for the state television stations, switched to a stadium long shot after the first three Iranian players had previously been shown refusing to sing the national anthem. In addition, throughout the broadcast, the sound from the stadium would cut out whenever the chanting of “bisharaf” – meaning “dishonorable” – was heard from the stands.

According to the “Athletic”, all international broadcasting rights holders will be provided with multiple camera angles – in addition to a common one for the game itself – between which during the warm-up, the national anthems and post-game events can be selected.

Internet access in Iran was severely restricted almost immediately after the end of the game, as reported by The Athletic Bloomberg news agency. The internet monitoring company NetBlocks confirmed a “major disruption” and announced that many people had been cut off from the mobile network.

In the course of the protests, the Iranian national team, otherwise popular across political borders, has become more and more caught between the fronts. While associations were already calling for Iran to be excluded from the World Cup, activists were hoping for expressions of solidarity from the players, who are likely to be under scrutiny like hardly any other team on the world stage.

“They are in a very precarious situation,” said Omid Namazi, a former assistant coach of the Iran national team “Washington Post”. Iranian authorities and traveling intelligence agents apparently wanted players to remain silent, while Iranians “expect these guys who are celebrities and well-known to be their voice.” He can’t remember Iranian football ever being so political and polarized. “This is the biggest event in the world,” he told the newspaper. “And obviously the regime is very concerned about it.”

“A Belated Gesture”

All members of the team met with President Ebrahim Raisi shortly before the tournament started to pose for a photo together, which brought heavy criticism to the squad.

“The result is that many Iranians see Team Melli not as their team but as the Islamic Republic team,” wrote Iran-American analyst and commentator Holly Dagres of the US think tank Atlantic Council in one blog post. In contrast to other athletes in the country, the team would not have taken a stand on the protests for too long.

With the silent protest, Team Melli would have shown a “subtle attitude”. But while their silences and stony faces may seem significant to outsiders, “it’s a belated gesture that many Iranians interpret as meaningless given how little Team Melli has done to show solidarity with their international platform.”

After the anthem was not sung, the players should not face any consequences for the time being. This will not happen during the tournament as not all players on the team could be banned, Iranian sports journalists wrote on Tuesday. But a temporary ban or pay cuts for the players employed in the Iranian league could be a possibility after the World Cup, especially if the team performs poorly.

Sources: “The Athletic”, “The Guardians”, “The Washington Post”, Atlantic Council, Bloomberg, NetBlockswith footage from the DPA news agency


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