Iran’s Performance in the World Cup Is Fraught With Politics Over Women’s Rights

AP Photo/Francisco Seco

The U.S. men’s soccer team made headlines when it defeated Iran in the World Cup. In the wake of mass protests in Tehran and other parts of the country, it was clear this was not a run-of-the-mill sporting event. Instead, the entire affair was fraught with various political angles that are still being explored even after the match.

The situation kicked off in September after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who had been arrested by Iranian police for violating the country’s rules mandating that women cover their heads with a hijab. Officers reportedly beat her with a baton. The authorities claimed she died from a heart attack and released footage of the woman collapsing in a police station as proof. Nevertheless, the incident elicited national outrage from the populace.

The first demonstration took place after Amini’s funeral in Saqqez. Women removed their head coverings in solidarity. Since then, the movement grew, with hundreds of thousands of people expressing their anger at their government. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) told reporters that over 300 people have been killed during the unrest. As many as 14,000 individuals have been arrested.

Experts indicated that Iran’s athletes might face punishment for losing the match and for also staging their own protest on the field during one of their matches. During their opening match against England, they refused to sing their national anthem. It was a statement criticizing their government for Amini’s death.

Mike Baker, a former CIA agent, told the New York Post that the players are in an “untenable position.”

“Given what we’ve seen from the Iranian regime … they’ve shown themselves to be brutal and there’s no reason to believe they’re going to suddenly become rational,” he explained.

Baker indicated that even though they sang the anthem in another match, a victory might have made up for their prior refusal.

“The regime would have used them for their own purposes,” he said. “They would have spent all the focus on the victory, defeating ‘The Great Satan’ or whatever clever phrases they come up with.”

Members of the team could face fines and possible arrest when they return to Iran. But it appears they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, having been subject to a “tremendous amount of pressure” before the games began. Protesters accused them of not speaking out forcefully enough on the Islamic Republic’s malfeasance. “Neither is good if you’re an Iranian player upon returning home,” he added.

On Monday, the State Department issued a statement supporting the soccer players, saying Iran’s government should listen to their “calls for change.”

Back in Iran, people are reveling in their team’s loss. “Images and videos from across the country poured out over social media that appeared to show Iranians celebrating the U.S. victory most likely in protest of the oppressive government that has been cracking down on citizens in recent weeks fighting for women’s rights,” according to Breitbart News.

Fox News Digital interviewed a woman in Iran who referred to herself as “Mahoora” before the game to find out how the citizenry felt about the affair. She told the news outlet that “It’s not just some people in Iran, it is the majority of people in Iran that want the U.S. to win.”

Mahoora continued, explaining that Iranians reject the team “because a soccer team should bring honor to its people. They must be our champions.”

“But right now people on the street are getting murdered. And people are burying children after they were killed, and the soccer team of the mullahs met [President] Ebrahim Raisi and celebrates someone’s birthday and laughed together,” she added. “And they didn’t pay attention to the people. The football players just wanted to be the center of the attention.”

The fight for women’s rights in Iran doesn’t seem to be dying down anytime soon, despite the Islamic Republic’s brutal crackdowns. It might even be possible that if members of Iran’s soccer team face retribution, the demonstrations will only grow more intense. However, with the world watching, the country’s government will need to find a way to resolve this issue sooner rather than later.


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