Iran and the World Cup

Masha Amini’s death has led to a curse Iran’s World Cup team cannot seem to escape.


Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

September 16th was a devastating day for Iran. According to the New York Times, 22 year old Mahsa Amini was brutally murdered by the country’s “morality police” for wearing her hijab in the incorrect fashion on this very day. Citizens were left in outrage, spiraling into protests far greater than the government could control. Over the years, Iran has had a miserable streak of human rights issues that made the country all the more oppressive for citizens, but this incident created a social distress that rang throughout the streets of the divided country. Fast forward to today, and it’s clear that that distress continues to spread throughout the country. This distress could be found in all aspects of Iran’s typical life, including their participation in the World Cup.

Protestors remain resilient against Iran’s threats of prosecution. Iran accepts their challenge, however.

One of the biggest sporting event of all time has to be the World Cup. Millions across the globe tune in to support their favorite teams in the spectacle of an event that can only be viewed once every four years. Well most of the time, this sport can be seen as one of the more respectful and light hearted games, there can be cases where teams can be difficult to work with. Iran was this team: from complaints of misconduct from an American movement to a devastating defeat that both shocked and amused people, Iran’s involvement with the sport led to many moments which deeply reflect citizen’s disapprove of Iran’s actions.

Before the competition even began, players immediately took to protest. A common practice of many teams is to sing their national anthem before the start of a game. This is done to honor their country and the success that they may have later into the future. This is what Team Meli players, Iran’s highly watched team, did not support. Iran was up against England in a friendly match. Before the match began, England went with the usual tradition and sang their anthem as normal, but Iran’s did not intend to go through with that. The Washington Post reports that Iran stood in silence as spectators’ supported the players’ decision to refrain from singing their national anthem. This act of civil disobedience upset Iran’s regime, with some players reportedly being threatened with prison time or even torture for refusing to do the pledge.

Iran would win against Wales in their qualifying match, but their match against America would be one to stir up interest. According to CNN, the US’s FIFA social department would post an image depicting the Iranian flag without it’s religious emblem. The emblem represented the religious figure of Allah, honoring him as the country’s only true god. This act was done on the department’s part in order to support women and protestors in Iran, believing their acts were unholy and that it was ironic how a country who harmed their people would depict themselves as holy. Iran quickly called for the team to be banned, as they believed this defaced the country’s beliefs and image. These requests were ignored by the FIFA however, with the organization refusing to respond to these claims. Although the social department of the US team was responsible for this act, the US team itself was completely unaware of this change, only giving a brief apology and a reassurance that they were not responsible for this change. Either way, this act helped spread the message of Iran’s corruption to the US audience, and in a way also helped set the tone for the America vs Iran match that would take place just a few weeks later.

There was much pressure applied to Iran on the day of their match against America. Not only had Iran already had a bitter view on America after the whole flag fiasco, but if they were to lose this match, they’d be disqualified from the sport, causing their swift defeat and low ranking. The Sporting News went on great detail on this game, with the results amazing millions. The match was slow as neither team were able to score until just a few minutes before half time. Defying everyone’s expectations, a player on America’s team would rush in to score the only goal in the game, injuring his foot in the process. Although this may seem like a foolish mistake for the player, this one point would go on to prevent America from stalemating with Iran. No matter how hard they tried to close the game, Iran was unable to score even one goal against America. This led a swift loss in the sport, and Iran scoring near last place with only one win on their record.

Back at home, the Iran team was faced with mockery. Many saw them as an asset of Iran’s political image, so many were excited to hear the news of their immediate loss. CNN explains how residents would chant and jokingly honk cars in celebration of the government’s pride being damaged by this defeat. Iran government meanwhile was less than thrilled to hear of the loss. They’ve already witnessed the act of rebellion that was their refusal of the pledge, but now that their loss had been cemented, the government was now scrambling to protect their image by punishing those who dared mock their team or supporting America in their win. One of these acts were the murder of a man who had an American flag to congratulate America on their qualification, further showing what lengths Iran’s regimen would go to control the beliefs of citizens in their country.

America’s win against Iran is not taken too kindly by the losing team.

But perhaps this is what led to all this misfortune. Even to outsiders, it’s amazing to see how Mahsi Amimi’s death determined Iran’s treatment and even performance in this year’s World Cup. Although for Iran we can not say their team was very successful, we can say this event was a major victory for Iran citizens and human rights activists across the globe. The events Iran endured in this year’s World Cup exposed humanitarian issues the country has been having for decades now, and it’s empowering to see how despite the violence these protestors are treated with, they never chose to let up on the issue. With how relentless protests are against the issues the country have been facing, it’s only a matter of time before the morality police exhausts their influence. But hopefully in the next four years, Iran wouldn’t need to turn against their players in protest of a corrupt government, and they’d not have to worry about being murdered over the way they wear a hijab.