Iranian Team Declines To Sing National Anthem, Backing Protesters

By Chimezie Nebolisa

Iran national team declined to sing their national anthem before their opening World Cup match against England after fans back home accused the squad standing with the state crackdown on persistent popular unrest.

Protests for the fall of the ruling Shi'ite Muslim government have startled Iran since the death two months ago of young woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest for flouting the strict Islamic dress code.

Dozens of Iranian public figures, athletes and artists have displayed solidarity with the protesters - but not the national soccer team, until Monday's match when all team members remained silent when the national anthem was played.

Ahead of the match, no Iranian player had voiced support for the demonstrations by compatriots from all walks of life, one of the most sustained challenges to the cleric elite since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Before travelling to Doha the team met with hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.