Iranian protesters celebrate World Cup defeat, as fears surround players’ return



CNN

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

The nation crashed out of the tournament in Qatar after losing 1-0 on Tuesday, ending a campaign that has been overshadowed by anti-government protests that have raged for months at home.

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 a show of solidarity with demonstrators. The team’s families were also threatened with imprisonment and torture before the match, a source involved in games security said.

People in several Iranian cities celebrated from inside their homes and apartment buildings moments after the final whistle, which came in the early hours of Wednesday local time, as videos posted on social media showed people blowing their horns. cars, cheered and whistled.

People in Iran celebrated the national team's loss to the USA on Tuesday night.

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

The Norwegian-based Iranian rights group Hengaw posted several videos of similar scenes. “People in Paveh are celebrating Iran’s national team’s loss to America in the World Cup in Qatar, they are chanting ‘Down with Jash (traitors),” Hengaw said in a post.

Demonstrations have rocked Iran for months, sparking a deadly crackdown by authorities. The nationwide uprising was first sparked by the death of Mahsa (also known as Zhina) Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman who died in mid-September after being detained by the country’s morality police. Since then, protesters across Iran have united around a variety of grievances with the regime.

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

Soccer has become an increasingly heated flashpoint in recent weeks, with the World Cup throwing a global spotlight on domestic unrest.

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 “He no longer represents the people of Iran.”

Soheili said Iran’s regime has managed to politicize and weaponize the team and was critical of the players for not making a bigger statement about the protests. “It was a historic missed opportunity,” Soheili said.

Before Tuesday’s game, many fans said they didn’t want Iran to win. “The reason is not because of football, [but] for 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 today unfortunately I cannot be a supporter of the national team because of the current situation that is happening and the government trying to hijack the game and the sport and use it as a platform to buy credibility and to. show that everything is normal (with) what is happening in Iran.”

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

Iran’s national team would have advanced to the second round of the World Cup with a win or a draw against the USA, but the team will now travel home after a group stage exit.

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

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

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

The source said they were told their families would face “violence and torture” if they did not sing the national anthem or join any political protests against the Tehran regime.

The players sang the anthem on Tuesday, and before their second game against Wales last Friday, which saw Iran win 2-0.

Hours before kick-off on Tuesday, Iranian authorities said a former member of the national soccer team, Parviz Boroumand – who was arrested this month for criticizing the government – had been released on bail, according to state news agency IRNA.

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

Iranian football legend Ali Karimi, sometimes referred to as the “Maradona of Asia”, has meanwhile said he has received death threats from his family members after vocally supporting the protests.

The government has described him as one of the “main leaders” of the demonstrations and issued a warrant for his arrest in early October accusing him of “harmonizing with the enemy” and “encouraging riots,” according to the Supreme Judicial Council. of Iran. , both charges punishable by death.

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