Silence sometimes speaks louder than words. At the Khalifa International Stadium on the second day of the World Cup, 11 men in the Iranian national colours proved this adage when they refused to sing along to the national anthem. In an interview, captain Ehsan Hajsafi took an even stronger stand, saying he was standing by the Iranian people in offering condolences to grieving families back home. In a tournament whose lustre has been marred by accusations of human rights violations and where plans of protesting the country’s hostility towards LGBT people quickly folded in the face of threats, the uncommon bravery of these players, who have little to gain and everything to lose, stood out. For months now, people have poured into the streets of Tehran and other Iranian cities in protest against oppressive rules imposed by the Islamic republic on women. Demonstrators have publicly mourned the memory of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was beaten to death by the morality police in September, and have faced the increasing ferocity of State forces. Even as Iranian players battled England on the pitch, security forces opened fire at protesters in smaller towns. And yet, other than the customary condemnation, world powers have largely looked away, relegating the plight and struggles of women to the back rows of global attention.
Against this backdrop, the courage of the Iranian team is exemplary, befitting the legacy of conscientious defiance, be it Muhammad Ali’s stand against the Vietnam War, the 1968 Black Power Salute or Colin Kaepernick taking the knee in 2016. In standing with the women who are risking everything to reform an unjust system, Iran’s team upheld the highest standards of the game. And, humanity.
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