Iran protests captivate country's World Cup squad

Fans urged to chant Mahsa Amini's name in 22nd minute

Iran's number 14 Saman Ghoddos, front row third from right, with his Iranian teammates before a World Cup warm-up game against Austria. EPA
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Human rights protests in Iran have captivated the country’s World Cup squad, one of its players has said, as activists look to express their feelings during Monday's match with England.

Saman Ghoddos praised the “brave men and women” who have taken to the streets since the death of Mahsa Amini in September.

A group of exiled Iranians plan to travel to the country's match with England to ensure football fans strike up a chant in the 22nd minute – a reference to Ms Amini’s age when she died.

Demonstrations have become a feature of Iranian life and hundreds of people are feared to have been killed a violent crackdown by the authorities.

Ghoddos, who plays for Brentford in the English Premier League, said it was difficult to think about football while protests swept his homeland.

He said players were exchanging messages about the political situation on an almost daily basis.

“We are trying to play for the families, the sisters, the brothers, for all of us,” he told The Times.

“I don’t want to mix politics with football but football is coming to the side right now because people are losing their lives fighting for freedom.

“Clearly a change needs to come and it’s already been going on for so long. We all want to change.”

Iran begin their World Cup campaign against England on Monday.

Ghoddos, who was born and started his career in Sweden, is the only Iranian squad member who plays in England.

Protests in Iran - in pictures

Iran, who have never advanced beyond the group stage, play Wales on November 25 and the United States on November 29.

The UK and US have both imposed sanctions on Iran over its treatment of protesters and accused it of arming Russia in breach of UN resolutions.

Iran’s nuclear programme is another source of tension, with fresh concerns raised this week about its enrichment of uranium.

However, Ghoddos rejected calls from Ukraine for Iran to be thrown out of the World Cup, saying it would not change anything.

Before the tournament kicks off, one activist has started a campaign for fans to chant Mahsa Amini’s name in solidarity with protesters.

Ms Amini died in the custody of Iran’s morality police after she was arrested for breaching the country's dress code for women.

Negin Shiraghaei, a former BBC Persian journalist, wants football fans to strike up a chant in the 22nd minute of each game.

“Join us to remind the world about what’s happening,” a slogan for her campaign says.

Another activist told BBC Newsnight that she would be among those protesting in the stadium.

"We're going to go and be the voice of Iranian people getting killed every day," she said.

"There is a plan going around at minute 22 to chant her name ... there's going to be regime officials, Iranian pro-regime people in the stadium, so of course we want to show our anger towards them."

Updated: November 17, 2022, 11:00 AM