Iran footballers have been sent a chilling warning from Tehran that they face retribution for "insulting" the country after the brave men decided not to sing their national anthem ahead of the Qatar World Cup match against England. The team could now face the strictest punishment if they refuse to sing their national anthem in the remaining matches.
There were already calls for the team to be given asylum in the UK as there were fears that they may face prison or possibly death on returning to Iran. The chilling warning that came on Wednesday has now raised fears not only among the footballing world but also among human rights groups.
Matter of Live and Death
The strongest suggestion that Iran's footballers could face reprisals came on Wednesday from Iranian intelligence chief turned and senior politician Mehdi Chamran, who warned the team not to repeat the mistake in their remaining matches. Chamran, the chairman of Tehran city council, warned that the country "will never allow anyone to insult our anthem", reports The Guardian.
Chamran, a conservative hardliner, who is now the head of the Tehran city council, said, "We will never allow anyone to insult our anthem and flag.
"Iranian civilization has a history of several thousand years, this civilization is as old as the total of European and American civilizations."
According to The Guardian, several prominent Iranian leaders demanded that the entire team be replaced with fresh players who are "ready to sing the national anthem."
The Iranian team's refusal to perform the national anthem received minimal attention from Iran's heavily censored media, but the ultra-conservative Kayhan newspaper criticized "certain players" for their silence.
The Kayhan newspaper, which is also a favorite of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vented its rage by attributing the team's defeat to an "unprecedented psychological media war." The publication was also furious with Iranian spectators for applauding their team's defeat against England.
"This campaign did not spare any effort to create a gap between the people of Iran and the members of the Iranian national football team, as well as producing false dichotomies," it said.
"This political-media movement, mainly Londoners, with the support and coordination of local patriots, from movie and sports celebrities to chain media and Telegram channels, and even reformist political figures, have joined hands to attack the players"
The Iranian national team stood stone-faced as the national anthem played on Monday at the Khalifa International Stadium prior to their 6-2 World Cup loss to England. The stand taken by Iran's national football team was seen as a show of solidarity with the protests that are presently engulfing the country following the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16 while in the custody of Iran's morality police.
The 22-year-old woman died three days after her detention in Tehran for allegedly violating the Islamic dress code for women. Since then, the protests haven't stopped.
Even during Iran's match on Monday, supporters booed throughout the national anthem, waved placards and T-shirts with protest messages, and chanted Amini's name.
Another hardline newspaper, Vatanemrooz, stated that Iranian protesters rejoiced in the streets over their nation's humiliating loss, erupting into applause in coffee shops as England scored goals, and honking their cars after the match.
There were also reports of police opening fire with live rounds on one demonstration. Online videos of central Tehran's motorbike drivers honking and yelling "Six!" in response to England's six goals against Iran have gone viral.
Authorities in Mashhad, a city in northeastern Iran, closed down a coffee shop after it announced its support for England. The initial focus on the country's hijab, or headscarf mandate for women has now been replaced with nationwide calls for the downfall of Iran's governing Shiite clergy.