World Cup 2022 could help Iranian dissidents, say campaigners

It is hoped the competition will draw greater scrutiny of Iran’s crackdown on protesters and bystanders

Iran fans inside the Azadi Stadium, Tehran, as Iran played Iraq in the World Cup Qualifiers on January 27. Reuters
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As Iran face their World Cup opening game against England on Monday, the competition could help protesters in their struggle against the regime’s “bloody crackdown”, a campaigner has said.

Iran have entered the games against a backdrop of domestic turmoil and have faced calls to be thrown out of the competition.

Since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, 22, who was detained by "modesty police" in Tehran for not adhering to the country’s strict dress code, there have been anti-government protests across the country.

Britain's House of Commons last week heard that more than 14,000 people had been detained so far, with more than 300 deaths recorded.

A group of 22 Iranian women played football in Westminster over the weekend in a protest against their country’s regime.

The women wore football kits, as well as T-shirts with the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom”.

“Big sporting occasions like the World Cup often mean a new level of interest in participating and host countries," said Nina Navid, Amnesty International UK’s Iran campaigner.

"And we’d like to see much greater scrutiny of Iran’s bloody crackdown on protesters and bystanders, and the country’s overall crisis of systematic impunity.

“People in Iran currently risking their lives to chant ‘Woman, life, freedom’ must be listened to by the international community, and the World Cup could become another platform for this struggle.

“The Iranian authorities punish women seeking to enter stadiums to watch football, and women football fans in Iran have fought for years for the simple right to attend matches, something they still can’t do without fear of arbitrary arrest.

“Immensely brave women, girls and others in countless towns and cities in Iran are displaying amazing courage in the face of Iran’s security forces, who have used unlawful force against them.

"And with more than 200 protesters and bystanders already dead, including 30 children, it’s vital the international community doesn’t switch its attention away from Iran.

“The UK should take a lead in pushing Iran up the agenda at the UN, ensuring an independent investigative mechanism is established by the Human Rights Council as a step towards pursuing accountability for Iran’s crimes under international law – past and present.”

Comedian and actor Omid Djalili, who was born in London to Iranian parents, said people in Iran were “protesting against gender apartheid” and said the country should have been “thrown out” of the tournament.

"My message to England players right now is you have a massive opportunity to do a very, very small gesture to make massive global impact," Djalili said in a video posted on Twitter.

“And I think England players, Wales and USA players, when they score if you just make this one simple statement of like ‘hair, snip’, that sends a huge message to the women and girls of Iran.”

Protesters from around the world have been demanding freedom for Iranian women and an end to the compulsory headscarf.

This has included people chopping off locks of their hair in support of protesters in Iran.

Iranian-born British comedian and actress Shaparak Khorsandi, responding to the video, said: “Iran does not allow women and girls in stadiums, Russia is not allowed in World Cup, Iran shouldn’t be either.”

“A tiny gesture, football is for everyone. Freedom is for everyone."

Updated: November 21, 2022, 6:34 AM