‘We are with them’: Iranian player backs protests at home; Chaos in fan zone

In today’s FIFA World Cup briefing, your wrap of daily news:

  • An Iranian defender spoke out in apparent support of anti-government protests in his home country.
  • Tens of thousands of fans pushed and shoved against police lines at the fan zone in Doha, causing a crush.
  • And in case you missed it, Greg Baum was at the tournament opener as Qatar lost to Ecuador and Vince Rugari reports that French stars are blissfully unaware of the Socceroos ahead of their opening game on Wednesday.

Check back throughout the day for more updates.

‘The conditions in our country are not right’

Defender Ehsan Hajsafi has become the first member of Iran’s national team to speak out from the World Cup in Doha in apparent support of anti-government protests at home, saying players should be the voice of those suffering.

More than two months of protests in Iran, sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman while in custody of the country’s morality police, have created one of the boldest challenges to its clerical leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s national team has been in the spotlight in the run-up to the World Cup in Qatar, with anticipation over whether players will use soccer’s showpiece event as a platform to show solidarity with the protest movement.

Ehsan Hajsafi spoke out in support of protests in Iran.Credit:AP

“They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathise with them regarding the conditions,” Hajsafi, who plays for AEK Athens, told a news conference.

“We have to accept the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” he said. “We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we should not respect them.”

The wave of unrest erupted in September after Kurdish-Iranian woman Mahsa Amini died in custody of the morality police for wearing clothes deemed “inappropriate”. Iran’s government blames foreign enemies for the crisis.

Some Iranian sportsmen and women have made gestures seen by protesters as shows of support, including not singing the national anthem or celebrating victories on the field.

According to the activist news agency HRANA, as of Friday, 410 protesters had been killed in the unrest, including 58 minors.

Other members of the team have avoided discussion of politics in public so far. Players Karim Ansarifard and Morteza Pouraliganji refused to answer questions on Friday about solidarity with women in Iran. On Thursday, midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who plays for Dutch club Feyenoord, suggested such questions were a ploy to distract the team.

However, Bayer Leverkusen striker Sardar Azmoun was selected for the team despite having publicly supported the protests in the past.

Some activists have taken a stand against the national team for not doing enough, and called on Iranians to gather at main squares of cities and towns across Iran on Monday night.

A post on social media, unverifiable by Reuters, said: “No matter what result the hated team of the Islamic Republic gets, we will gather in the streets to celebrate the defeat of the Islamic Republic’s team while chanting revolutionary slogans.”

A banner of Iran’s national team was set on fire in Tehran, videos on social media showed.

Hajsafi said it was undeniable the situation was not good and he hoped the national team could beat England in Monday’s Group B opener and bring some happiness to the people.

“Whatever we have is from them and we have to fight, we have to perform the best we can and score goals and represent the people,” he said.

“I hope conditions change as to expectations of the people.”


‘People could die’: Fan zone chaos in Doha

The fan zone set up in central Doha turned into a chaotic scene on Sunday on the opening day of the World Cup as tens of thousands of fans pushed and shoved against police lines to enter the venue.

Fans were trying to enter the enclosed area that contains a big-screen television for viewing matches, places to buy beer, and little else.

Riot police armed with batons and shields stood guard at the entrance. Some fans pleaded with officers to let them through the line.

Police stand in line to limit the number of people entering the fan zone.Credit:AP

“It’s very risky. People they could die,” said Hatem El-Berarri, an Iraqi who said he was working in neighbouring Dubai. “Old people, women, they cannot handle crowds like this. Thank God I’m a little bit tall, so I can breathe. But I saw some kids and said ‘get them up. They cannot breathe.’”

He said he saw people pushing and shoving, and women crying.

“My family is inside. I cannot enter to see them anymore. I don’t know what to do,” he said, calling the organisation “not very good”.

Luis Reyes, a Mexican-American living in Los Angeles, likened the crush to scenes a few weeks ago in South Korea that killed more than 150.

“You can’t go back and you can’t go forward,” he said. “I told my son, ‘Let’s go outside. It’s too dangerous.’”

It wasn’t clear if anyone was injured or arrested.

There was a similar situation Saturday night at a pre-World Cup concert as people tried to push their way inside the same fan zone.

Inside the festival area on Sunday there were no signs of trouble as tens of thousands of people watched the opening match. People were dancing, singing and drinking at a concert following the match between Qatar and Ecuador, which was played in the city of Al Khor.

Mahdi Hussain, a 17-year-old who did not manage to enter, said he was not happy that beer was being served.

“That bothers me,” he said. “I don’t want to be in an atmosphere where there is alcohol.”

Samira Said, who moved to Qatar from Egypt about 25 years ago, said she was overjoyed that an Arab country got to host the World Cup.

“As an Arab, I felt honoured. I was happy,” the 50-year-old said.


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