Iran has been embroiled in massive protests over the past few days after a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, died in custody while being held by the morality police for violating the country’s strictly enforced Islamic dress code.
Iran’s national football team player Sardar Azmoun, who plays for the Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen and Iran’s national team, has pledged his support for the protesters in what is being dubbed a daring act. He is the first player from the national team to do so.
In an Instagram story, Azmoun expressed his anger and said that he cannot remain silent despite a rule in the team prohibiting the players from speaking out during the team’s World Cup training camp in Austria.
“The ultimate [punishment] is to be kicked out of the national team, which is a small price to pay for even a single strand of Iranian women’s hair. Shame on you for easily killing the people and viva women of Iran. Long live Iranian women!”
Sardar Azmoun, who plays for @bayer04_en & is now in Austria with Iran’s national team for a friendly match against Senegal, says he couldn’t remain silent despite the team’s rules.
“I don’t care if I’m sacked. Shame on you for killing people so easily. Viva Iranian women.” pic.twitter.com/z3c0Et699g
— Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) September 25, 2022
Amini’s death occurred after she was arrested on September 13 while she was visiting Tehran from her hometown in the country’s western Kurdish region. The reason was cited as her allegedly loose headscarf or hijab. She collapsed at a police station and died three days later. This triggered massive outrage and daring displays of defiance.
Thereafter, police denied the allegations, saying that Amini had “suddenly suffered a heart problem”. Iranian officials have come out and dismissed the criticism as politically motivated and accused unnamed foreign countries of creating unrest in the nation.
Like Azmoun, former football player Ali Karimi, who was also known as the Asian Maradona, took to Twitter and demanded the Iran Army to side with the people and prevent “bloodshed” during the protests.
— ali karimi (@alikarimi_ak8) September 22, 2022
Azmoun may have subsequently deleted the post, but his act brought widespread reactions online with fans saying: “This is insanely brave, to stand up for women’s rights in a country that doesn’t see women as equals, regulates them into the shadows & hides them for fear of losing control over them.”
The most promising young talent in Iran’s national setup, Azmoun represented the country at youth level before moving to Russian Premier League side Rubin Kazan at 18. Strong in the air and with the ball at his feet, he moved to Rostov for two seasons and attracted the attention of clubs from some of Europe’s biggest leagues, before opting to return to Kazan to continue his development and then pursuing his career in the German league.
Sardar Azmoun’s support for the #Iranprotests2022 shows why football, as the most popular sport in the world with a social responsibility & influence, should never just stick to football.
— Derek Rae (@RaeComm) September 26, 2022
Iran and Senegal will lock horns at the Motion Invest Arena in neutral Austria for an international friendly on Tuesday as both sides continue their preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Iranians open the competition against England on November 21 before going on to face Wales and the United States.
What is happening in Iran?
In street protests, some women tore off their mandatory headscarves, demonstratively twirling them in the air. Videos online showed two women throwing their hijabs into a bonfire. Another woman is seen cutting off her hair in a show of protest.
At some of the demonstrations, protesters clashed with police, and thick clouds of tear gas were seen rising in the capital city of Tehran. Protesters were also chased and beaten with clubs by the motorcycle-riding Basij.
Despite huge crackdown, Iranian women & men got back to the streets again to chant against the whole regime. No one asking for reform. Islamic Republican and Taliban cannot be reformed. #MahsaAmini is becoming a symbol for #IranRevolution#مهسا_امینی pic.twitter.com/Tx5d8RQrdT
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) September 25, 2022
The Basij, volunteers in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, have violently suppressed protests in the past, including over water rights and the country’s cratering economy.
Yet some demonstrators still chant “death to the dictator,” targeting both Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s theocracy, despite the threat of arrest, imprisonment, and even the possibility of a death sentence.