Carlos Queiroz, coach of the Iranian World Cup team, has expressed anger at players being drawn into a crisis in their home country and told the team’s Iranian compatriots not to harass and politicize his team and let them focus on their tournament campaign.
Following his team’s 6-2 shot against England in their World Cup opener on Monday, Queiroz said his players, who are well known at home, were heavily criticized and even threatened for issues that had nothing to do with soccer.
The Iranian “Team Melli” — the national team — was in the limelight ahead of the World Cup. Many Iranians asked for their public support for the ongoing protests, which have become the most lasting challenges to the legitimacy of Iranian rulers since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
“Those who come to disturb the team with issues that aren’t just about soccer’s opinions, they’re not welcome because our boys, they’re just simple soccer boys,” Queiroz said at a news conference.
“Let the kids play the game. Because that’s what they’re looking for. They wanted to represent the country, represent the people, just like any other national team that is here. And all national teams have problems at home.”
Some fans have accused the team of joining Tehran’s crackdown on demonstrators. Activists say more than 400 people have been killed in the violence so far, including dozens of minors sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, two months ago after being arrested in accordance with the country’s strict Islamic dress code.
Some fans of the Iranian team in Qatar have also signaled their support for the demonstrators at home by wearing T-shirts marked “Women, Life, Freedom,” reflecting the popular song of the movement that has emerged since Amini’s death.
The team’s captain, Ehsan Hajsafi, had cautiously broken the team’s silence on the protests on Sunday and stated that his team supported and sympathized with them.
solidarity with demonstrators on Monday, however, the team declined to sing the Iranian national anthem before the game and the celebrations to their two goals were dampened after other Iranian athletes took similar steps.
There was also ridicule throughout the anthem, and some Iranian fans could be seen holding signs showing their support for women’s rights.
The decision not to sing the national anthem was not the first time that the Iranian team has symbolically supported the demonstrators. At the end of September, the team opted to wear black jackets to wear the colors of the country in their friendly against Senegal.
Portuguese Queiroz, who led Iran to the 2018 World Cup, said he was proud of his players for the political pressure they faced and called on England and upcoming Group B opponents, Wales and the United States, to join them.
“You don’t know what the kids have experienced behind the scenes just because they want to play soccer,” he said.
“Of course we have our opinion and we will express it at the right time. But I love the game and I don’t want players doing something that isn’t true to the game, which is about entertainment, joy, and pride,” he said.
“They only have one dream, to play for the country, to play for the people, and I’m very proud of how they stand up and keep fighting.”