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Voiced Their Protest Sans Words

Members of Iran’s national football team proved that silence is not only a sign of consent, but also a weapon of protest before their opening match against England at the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar on November 21. All the Iranian players remained silent when their national anthem was played before the match, as a token of the ongoing Anti-Hijab Protests in their country.

The Administration of President Sayyid Ebrahim Raisolsadati (commonly known as Ebrahim Raisi) has been harassing and persecuting protesters since the death of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd woman Mahsa Amini under questionable circumstances on September 16, 2022. The Guidance Patrol (the religious Morality Police) of Iran arrested Amini for not wearing the hijab in accordance with Government standards. The Law Enforcement Command of the Islamic Republic claimed that before transferring her to the hospital, Amini had a heart attack at a Police Station, collapsed, and slid into a coma. However, eyewitnesses, including women who were detained with Amini, reportedly said that she was severely beaten up, and died as a result of Police brutality. Since then, at least six people have been sentenced to death, and 21 more may be hanged. The Police are detaining protesters, and using batons to suppress protests. A number of writers, actors and artists have joined the Anti-Government Protests with common people, especially women. Unfortunately, their voice could not be heard due to the overwhelming control of the Fundamentalist Ruler.

Watch: Silent protest from Iranian team during national anthem

However, the scenario changed on November 21 when the Global Community saw (on television screen) the lips of the Iranian players not moving even when their national anthem was being played, nor did their emotions get manifested during such a moment. Television cameras showed the starting players standing stoically, but not singing, at Khalifa International Stadium. This way, the players expressed solidarity with the protesters back home. Speaking at the post-match media conference, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, the Captain of the Iranian squad, stressed: “That’s something that also has to be decided about in the team, which we already talked about and obviously everybody’s talking about.” The captain clearly stated that the situation in his country was not good at all, and that footballers were with the people of Iran. Earlier, defender Ehsan Hajsafi became the first Iranian player at the World Cup to publicly speak out in support of the protests. “They should know that we are with them and we support them and we sympathise with them regarding the conditions,” he told Al Jazeera.

It seems that harsh punishment awaits these players when they return home after the World Cup. The global publicity of their silent protest may save their lives; however, their career may be in jeopardy. Yet this form of protest, as well as honesty, gives hope… The Iranian players have shown the world that such a strong message can be delivered to the dictatorial rulers through silence. They could have thought that their job is to play, and not to stage protests. In fact, it is advisable to concentrate only on the game during a competitive event, like the FIFA World Cup. Still, the Iranian players thought otherwise.

Usually, protest means an open conflict with the authorities, and taking part in demonstrations against the rulers. This particular form of protests is more visible, perhaps more effective in achieving immediate goals. However, the Iranian players have rocked the world, as their style of protest is effortless, yet powerful; and silent, yet poignant. This sort of protest cares only about the Big, and not about small, or even the personal image of the protesters. Most importantly, the Iranian players chose a perfect time and stage for sending the strong message to their Government. Jahanbakhsh, Hajsafi and their teammates made it clear that the atrocities committed by a ruler should be condemned immediately.

Big global sporting events witnessed such protests in the past, as members of the Indian hockey team refused to salute Adolf Hitler during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It, too, was unprecedented, keeping in mind the global geopolitical landscape before the Second World War. The World Cup will be over, and peace will prevail in Iran, one day. However, History shall always remember the protests staged by the Iranian players because of their honest responsibility towards their countrymen.

It may be noted that Iran’s beach football, water polo and basketball teams, too, have refused to sing the national anthem in recent times.

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