Iran’s World Cup defeat by the United States was greeted with applause and cheers in Tehran and other Iranian cities on Tuesday night, as protesters hailed the country’s exit from the tournament as a blow to the ruling regime.
The nation was knocked out of the tournament in Qatar after their 1-0 defeat on Tuesday, ending a campaign that has been overshadowed by months-long anti-government protests at home.
But there are concerns over the safety of Iranian players returning home across the Persian Gulf after the team initially refused to sing Iran’s national anthem before the first game in an apparent show of solidarity with the protesters. Team families were also threatened with arrest and torture before the match, said a source involved in match security.
People in several Iranian cities celebrated from inside their homes and residential buildings moments after the final whistle, which came in the early hours of Wednesday local time, as videos posted on social media showed people honking, singing and whistling.
“I’m happy, this is the government losing to the people,” a witness to the celebrations in a town in the Kurdish region, whose name CNN has not released due to security concerns, told CNN on Wednesday.
The Iranian human rights group Hengaw, based in Norway, posted several videos of similar scenes. “People in Paveh are celebrating the Iranian team’s loss to the United States at the World Cup in Qatar, chanting ‘Down with Jash (traitors)’,” Hengaw said in a post.
Demonstrations have rocked Iran for several months, prompting a deadly crackdown by authorities. The national uprising began with the death of Mahsa (also known as Zhina) Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian-Kurdish woman who died in mid-September after being detained by the country’s morality police. Since then, protesters across Iran have rallied around a series of grievances against the regime.
The head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, said the country was in a “full-fledged human rights crisis” as authorities cracked down on protests.
Football has become an increasingly heated hot spot in recent weeks, with the World Cup casting a global spotlight on the turmoil within the country.
And fans following the team in Qatar are 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 “He no longer represents the people of Iran.”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 had managed to politicize and arm the team and criticized the players for not making a grander 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 kept his last name for security reasons – told CNN in Doha.
“I mix emotion(s) and feeling(s),” Farshid said. “I am a passionate fan of Iran but today unfortunately I cannot be a fan of the national team because of the current situation 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 that many pro-regime fans also attended Iran’s World Cup matches in Doha and created a very tense environment for other Iranian fans by trying to interfere with his media interviews.
The Iranian team would have qualified for the second round of the World Cup with a win or a draw against the United States, but will now return home after being eliminated in the group stage.
“I’m very sorry on behalf of our players, our group, that we didn’t have the opportunity to qualify for the next round,” midfielder Saeid Ezatolah told reporters after the game. “I hope that 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 reprisals for a brief show of support for the protests, which drew international attention and praise from human rights groups.
The country’s flag and national anthem were rejected by protesters as symbols of the current regime. And, following the refusal of Iranian players 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 Guard. Iranian Revolutionary. (IRGC).
The source said they were told that their families would face “violence and torture” if they did not sing the national anthem or join any political protest against the Tehran regime.
Players sang the anthem on Tuesday and before the 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 football team, Parviz Boroumand – who was arrested this month for criticizing the government – had been released on bail, according to the state news agency. Go to.
Boroumand had been arrested in mid-November during protests in Tehran, Iranian media reported. Earlier on Tuesday, Iranian-Kurdish footballer Voria Ghafouri was also released on bail.
Iranian football legend Ali Karimi, sometimes referred to as the “Asian Maradona”, said he received death threats through his family members after openly supporting the protests.
The government described him as one of the “main leaders” of the demonstrations and issued an arrest warrant in early October, accusing him of “harmonizing with the enemy” and “encouraging riots”, according to the Supreme Judicial Council. from Iran. , both charges of which are punishable by death.