Iranian media blame humiliating World Cup loss on protests

Doha, Qatar — Iran were reeling on Tuesday from the humiliation of starting the World Cup with a lopsided 6-2 loss to England in a game overshadowed by protests on and off the pitch.

Die-hard Iranian media have sought to blame the defeat on the unrest that has gripped the Islamic Republic since the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s vice police. Iranian newspapers have turned to the familiar tactic of accusing foreign enemies, including the United States, Britain and Israel, of stoking protests to eject the national team from its game.

“Iran-2; England, Israel, Saudis and traitors – 6,” reads the radical daily Kayhan. The newspaper, whose editor is appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran’s rout came after “weeks of unprecedented and unjust psychological warfare against the team (. ..) from national and foreign traitors”. a “political media current” sought to “damage the spirit of the Iranian team by attacking them”.

Iranian fans in the stands on Monday chanted Amini’s name, held signs and wore T-shirts with protest slogans and booed during the national anthem. Many fans seemed conflicted over whether to even support their national team amid the security forces’ violent crackdown on the protests. At least 419 people have been killed since the protests began, according to the watchdog organization Human Rights Activists in Iran. As the match unfolded on Monday, Iranian security forces unleashed heavy fire on protesters in a western Kurdish town.

Another hardline daily, Vatanemrooz, reported that protesters in Iran celebrated their country’s humiliating defeat in the streets, bursting into cafes with joy as England scored goals and honked their horns with glee after the game. Footage from central Tehran leaked online showing motorbike drivers honking and chanting “Six!” referencing England’s six goals against Iran. Authorities have shut down a cafe in the northeastern town of Mashhad for announcing it supports England.

“None of the players were ready in spirit,” wrote Iran’s pro-reform daily Shargh.

The nationwide protest movement initially focused on the hijab, or headscarf, imposed by the Iranian state for women, but soon turned into calls for the downfall of Iran’s ruling Shiite clerics. During the protests, filmmakers, actors, sports stars and other celebrities have spoken out publicly against the government.

Iran’s national team has come under huge pressure from protesters to show support ahead of the upcoming world soccer championship. The players faced a barrage of public criticism last week after meeting President Ebrahim Raisi at a farewell ceremony, where they remained silent on the issue of the protests. A few players were pictured bowing to Raisi.

“So you went to see the president, it was the best opportunity to ask him not to kill children and teenagers, at the very least!” prominent Iranian actor Parviz Parastouei wrote on Instagram.

Before kick-off against England, the Iranian players did not sing their anthem, standing in silence in an apparent act of solidarity. During the match, they did not celebrate the team’s two goals.

Players risk a heavy backlash for making the slightest gesture of protest. State news agency IRNA sought to promote the team as a patriotic symbol and national unifier amid the turmoil, describing the players as “soldiers fighting to lift their country”.

Some former football stars who championed the protest movement have been arrested or charged in absentia. Moslem Moein, the head of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards Cyberspace Organization, called out four of the most vocal retired players, who reportedly turned down invitations to attend the World Cup as government guests.

“England forwards didn’t score the goals,” he wrote, adding that Iran’s defeat was the work of outspoken former players, who protested off the pitch.


AP World Cup coverage: and—Sports

ABC News

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