“Power has an ambivalent relationship with football”


5:58 p.m., September 29, 2022, amended to 5:59 p.m., September 29, 2022

The protest was silent but the message got through. Tuesday, the players of the Iranian selection, who faced Senegal, displayed themselves with a black jacket on the shoulders, without showing the logo of their country at the time of the hymns. A way for them to show their support for the protest movement that has set the country ablaze for ten days and the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian girl, after being arrested by the morality police.

Read also – In Iran, after the death of Mahsa Amini, the revolt against power spreads

Once the match was played, several of them used social networks to support women and especially to criticize the regime and its repression, which claimed more than 75 lives in ten days according to NGOs. The authorities, especially religious ones, take a dim view of these sporting supports, but find themselves limited in their room for manoeuvre.

A way to radiate

Pariah of the world economy following the sanctions against it, Iran takes advantage of football to keep a small place on the sports scene: “Power has an ambivalent relationship with football. The country has few means of exposing itself under another face, and if the national team wins, it can be profitable for them.deciphers Kévin Veyssière, sports geopolitics analyst and author of 22 Unusual stories about the World Cup. Thus, leaders do not hesitate to put “means for selection, in particular by seeking experienced breeders”.

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The players of the selection know that they have a certain responsibility

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On another side, “Iranian leaders always watch with one eye what is happening there because it can bring a sense of freedom. This is what frightens the regime and especially the religious authorities,” forward Kevin Veyssière. In 1998, during the country’s first victory in the World Cup against the American sworn enemy, the regime quickly put a stop to popular scenes of joy, fearing that they would lead to a protest movement.

2009, 2022… The stand taken by players against the repression of movements in Iran is not new. « The players of the selection know that they have a certain responsibility, Kevin Veyssiere analysis. Football has a powerful role in Iran, it concerns all strata of society and the players remain very close to their roots even if they are going to play in Europe, they feel that they have this responsibility. »

Even if it means taking the risk of being excluded from their selection. That’s what happened to star Ali Karimi. In 2009, during a qualifying match for the World Cup in South Africa, the player and six of his teammates wore a green bracelet, a sign of support for opponents of the regime.

“Being expelled from the selection is a small price to pay”

A few days ago, star striker Sardar Azmoun shared a post on social media before deleting it:  » The [punition] ultimate goal is to be expelled from the national team, which is a small price to pay for even a single lock of hair from an Iranian woman. It will never be erased from our consciousness. I’m not afraid of being ousted. Shame on you for killing the people so easily and long live the women of Iran. If they are Muslims, may God make me an infidel. » Other players followed, such as midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi.

But difficult for Iran to want to shine on the football scene, two months before a World Cup in Qatar and a match against the United States (November 29), without its best elements. « Even if the choice comes from the coach, it’s complicated to do without your best players and to be ridiculous at the World Cup »says Kévin Veyssière.

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