DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Iran on Tuesday suffered the humiliation of kicking off the World Cup with a lopsided 6-2 loss to England in a match that was overshadowed by protests on and off the field.
Iran’s hardline media has sought to blame the defeat on the turmoil that swept the Islamic Republic Since the death of 22-year-old Mohsa Amini on September 16, he has been in the custody of the country’s morality police. Iranian newspapers have resorted to the familiar tactic of accusing foreign enemiesincluding the United States, Britain and Israel, to stir up protests to remove the national team from its game.
“Iran – 2; “England, Israel, Saudi Arabia and traitors – 6,” read the headline in the hardline daily Kayhan. The newspaper, whose editor-in-chief was appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran’s defeat came after “Weeks of unfair and unprecedented psychological warfare against the team… from local and foreign traitors,” she added, adding that a “political media current” sought to “damage the spirit of the Iranian team by attacking it.”
Iranian fans in the stands on Monday chanted Amini’s name, holding up banners and wearing T-shirts with protest slogans and booing the national anthem. Many fans seemed conflicted about whether to support their national team against the background of the security forces’ violent crackdown on the demonstrations. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests erupted, according to human rights activists in Iran. As the match got underway on Monday, Iranian security forces opened heavy fire on protesters in a Kurdish town in the west of the country.
Another hardline daily, Vatanemrooz, reported that protesters in Iran celebrated their country’s humiliating defeat in the streets, bursting into cheers in cafes when England scored and car horns blaring in joy after the match. Footage from central Tehran circulated online showing motorcyclists firing guns and shouting “Six!” Referring to England’s six goals against Iran. Authorities closed down a café in the northeastern city of Mashhad for declaring it was rooted in England.
“None of the players were ready in spirit,” wrote the pro-reform Iranian newspaper Sharq.
The nationwide protest movement initially focused on the state-mandated headscarf or headscarf for women, but soon turned into calls for the overthrow of the ruling Shiite clergy in Iran. Over the course of the demonstrations are filmmakers, actors, sports stars and other celebrities He has spoken out against the government.
The Iranian national team has come under massive pressure from protesters to show support in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup. The players faced a barrage of public criticism last week after meeting President Ebrahim Raisi at a farewell party, where they remained silent on the issue of the protests. A few players are depicted bowing in relation to a major.
“So I went to the president, that was the best chance to ask him not to kill children and teenagers, to say the least!” Prominent Iranian actor Parviz Parastoi wrote on Instagram.
Before kick-off against England, the Iranian players did not sing their anthem, standing silently in an apparent act of solidarity. During the match they did not celebrate two goals for the team.
Players risk severe backlash for making even the smallest gestures of protest. The state-run IRNA news agency sought to promote the team as a patriotic symbol and national unifier amid the unrest, describing the players as “soldiers fighting for the advancement of their country”.
Some former football stars who defended the protest movement have been arrested and charged in absentia. Moein Muslim, head of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards’ cyberspace organization, summoned four of the most vocal retired players, who had reportedly declined invitations to the World Cup as guests of the government.
“England’s forwards didn’t score,” he wrote, adding that Iran’s defeat was the work of outspoken former players who protested off the field.
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