World Cup 2022: Iran football team do not sing national anthem before England game
In Iran, protests sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf “inappropriately”, have spread across the country and continued for more than two months.
On Sunday, Iran team captain Ehsan Hajsafi told a news conference: “My condolences to all the mourning families in Iran … we stand with them and share their pain … we must accept that conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy.
'We are here to work hard, fight, show our best performance and score goals, and present them to the bereaved Iranian people'
- Ehsan Hajsafi, Iran team captain
“My people are sad and our presence here does not mean that we cannot be a voice for them or should not respect them,” he said.
“We owe our lives to our people and we are here to work hard, fight, show our best performance and score goals, and present them to the bereaved Iranian people … I hope that things will improve and everyone will be happy.”
Protesters, led by women, have been calling for an end to Iran's hijab law and the dismantling of the so-called "morality police" that enforce women's dress.
Iranian authorities have responded with force. Rights groups estimate that 410 protesters had been killed in the unrest as of Saturday, including 58 minors. Some 54 members of the security forces were also killed, it said, adding that more than 17,251 people have been arrested. Authorities have not provided an estimate of any wider death count.
Iranian player Alireza Jahanbakhsh has suggested that the British media is attempting to disrupt his squad's preparation ahead of their opening World Cup match against England by invoking recent protests back home.
Jahanbakhsh, 29, an attacking midfielder and a former English Premier League player, was answering a question on Thursday about how the mass anti-government protests in Iran had affected the football national team's readiness for the World Cup.
"I'm not surprised you are asking this question. I think everyone is expecting this sort of question and I assume you’re from the English media probably," Jahanbakhsh answered.
He said the Iranian team travelled to Qatar "for our duty and our duty is to play football".
"To be honest, I’m not sure if England wasn’t in our group you would have come with this question firstly," he told the reporter.
Jahanbakhsh then suggested that English media is attempting to play a "mental game" with such questions.
"Ok, play a mental game, ask a question about what’s going on here or there or whatever, but we have just four days to go to play one of the biggest games of our lives, every single person involved in Team Melli and all of us are focusing on that game," he said.