DOHA: up to 27 years old Mariam, the ticket for the World Cup match was a precious gift. A sports fanatic, she traveled to the World Cup in Qatar from Tehran to watch Iran’s opener against England on Monday, her first live football match.
Women are banned from attending men’s matches in Iran.
“I have never attended a football match in my life, so I had to take this chance,” said Mariam, an international relations student who, like other Iranian women present at the match, refused to give his surname for fear of government reprisals.
Iran takes part in the World Cup as a major women’s protest movement rocks the country.
Security forces violently suppressed the protests, killing at least 419 people, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that monitors the protests.
The unrest was spurred by the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, 22, in the custody of the country’s vice squad. It initially focused on the state-mandated hijab, or headscarf, for women, but has since morphed into one of the most serious threats to the Islamic Republic since the chaotic years that followed. its foundation.
“A big achievement for protesters would be to have the choice to wear the hijab,” Mariam said. Her brown hair draped over her shoulders and flowed long down her back. “But after that women will go for their right to be in the stadiums.”
In an effort to limit large gatherings, Iran has closed all soccer matches to the public since the protests began. The reason for the authorities’ fear became clear when fans broke into Doha’s Khalifa International Stadium on Monday.
Many Iranian fans wore T-shirts or waved signs printed with the uprising mantra – “Woman, Life, Freedom”. Others wore T-shirts bearing the names of protesters killed by Iranian security forces in recent weeks.
The World Cup in Qatar, a short flight from Iran across the Persian Gulf, has become a rallying point for Iranian political mobilization.
Protesters even called on football’s governing body FIFA to ban Iran from participating in the tournament due to restrictions on women in football stadiums and government repression.
The question of whether to put down roots for the national team has divided the Iranians as the team becomes entangled in the country’s volatile politics. Many now see the support for the Iranian team as a betrayal of the young women and men who risked their lives on the streets.
“The protest movement has eclipsed football,” said Kamran, a linguistics professor who lives in the leafy northern province of Mazandaran. “I want Iran to lose these three games.”
Anusha, a 17-year-old whose high school in Tehran was rocked by protests, said the past few weeks of unrest had changed everything for her.
“A few months ago I would have said of course that I wanted Iran to win against England and America,” she said. “Now that’s weird. I really don’t care.
Others insist the national team, which includes players who have spoken out on social media in solidarity with the protests, is representative of the country’s people, not its ruling Shia clerics. The team’s star striker, Sardar Azmoun, spoke about the online protests. Two former football stars have even been arrested for supporting the movement.
“At the end of the day, I want the players to achieve their dreams,” Mariam said. “It’s not their fault that our society is so polarized.”
The Iranian government, for its part, tried to encourage citizens to support their team against Iran’s traditional enemies. Iran take on the United States on November 29 – a controversial matchup that last happened at the 1998 World Cup in France.
Observers note that players are likely facing pressure from the government not to side with the protests.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has urged his government to prepare for possible problems. Iran International, the Saudi-funded Farsi news channel that extensively covers the Iranian opposition, reported that Qatari authorities banned its journalists from attending the World Cup under Iranian pressure.
Already, Iranian athletes have come under intense scrutiny. When the Iranian mountaineer Elnaz Rekabi competed in South Korea without wearing her country’s compulsory headscarf, she became a lightning rod for the protest movement.
“We expect them to show us that they support the Iranian people,” Azi, a 30-year-old Iranian fan living in Ottawa, Canada, said of the national team. “A kind of sign, by any means possible.”

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