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The Farda Briefing: Protesting Iranian Athletes Shun National Anthem, Remove Head Scarves 

Carlos Queiroz, the coach of Iran’s national soccer team, said his players in the World Cup are free to voice their support for the protests as long as they adhere to FIFA’s rules.
Carlos Queiroz, the coach of Iran’s national soccer team, said his players in the World Cup are free to voice their support for the protests as long as they adhere to FIFA’s rules.

Welcome back to The Farda Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. To subscribe, click here.

I'm RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari. Here's what I’ve been following during the past week and what I’m watching for in the days ahead.

The Big Issue

A growing number of Iranian athletes are refusing to sing the national anthem or to celebrate their victories in solidarity with the months-long anti-establishment protests that have rocked the country. Female athletes have also removed or refused to wear the mandatory head scarf in national and international competitions.

Videos uploaded on social media appear to show members of Iran's national basketball, soccer, and water polo teams recently refusing to sing the national anthem during matches abroad. An Iranian archer, meanwhile, appeared to remove her head scarf following a tournament in Tehran. She later apologized and said it was unintended, although some suggested she was pressured to do so. Last month, Iranian climber Elnaz Rekabi competed without a head scarf in South Korea, although she also later apologized.

Iranian soccer legend Ali Daei said he refused an invitation from FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, to attend the World Cup in Qatar because he wanted to “stay alongside my compatriots and share my condolences to families who have recently lost their loved ones." Another outspoken former player, Ali Karimi, also declined an invitation from FIFA, saying, “Iranians are going through a very difficult time.”

A cleric in the northwestern city of Urmia said during Friday Prayers that athletes who refused to sing the national anthem should be “punished,” state media reported. Meanwhile, Iran's deputy sports minister, Maryam Kazemipur, conceded that some female athletes have acted against “Islamic norms,” although she said they had since apologized.

Why It Matters: The acts of solidarity show that support among Iranian athletes is growing for the anti-government protests, which have triggered a deadly government crackdown. The demonstrations, the biggest challenge to the clerical regime for years, have attracted support from all corners of society, including students, artists, lawyers, and activists.

The support of well-known athletes and sports figures has further publicized the protests and the brutal government response that has killed at least 330 people. Some 14,000 people have also been arrested in the crackdown, including athletes.

What's Next: More athletes are likely to publicly show their support for the protesters in the coming weeks, including during the soccer World Cup that kicks off on November 20 in Qatar. The Iranian national team includes several players who have criticized the authorities over the death of Mahsa Amini, who died on September 16 shortly after she was arrested for allegedly violating the country’s hijab law. Her death was the catalyst for the protests.

Activists have called on soccer fans attending the World Cup to chant Amini’s name during Iran's games. FIFA does not allow political slogans and gestures at soccer matches. Carlos Queiroz, the coach of Iran’s national soccer team, said his players are free to voice their support for the protests as long as they adhere to FIFA’s rules.

Stories You Might Have Missed

• As the demonstrations rage on across Iran, some young people are knocking off clerics' turbans in the streets, in the latest form of protest. While some Iranians have praised the "turban throwing" as an act of resistance, others have expressed concern that clerics who are not affiliated with the state could become the victims of harassment and violence.

• Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi was already well established as a popular voice of protest, but this time his fortune-telling has landed him behind bars, as fans and family members express concerns for his life. Shortly after the release of his new video, Omen, which makes foreboding predictions about the future of Iran's clerical leadership if it continues its violent crackdown on the demonstrations, Salehi was arrested and has not been heard from since.

What We're Watching

Iran is facing mounting international pressure over its deadly crackdown on protesters. The European Union on November 14 announced additional sanctions against Tehran. French President Emmanuel Macron characterized the unrest as a “revolution" after meeting with Iranian women activists, including Roya Piraei, whose mother was killed by security forces in the early days of the crackdown. Separately, the United States said it will continue to pursue accountability for those responsible for the abuses “through sanctions and other means.”

Why It Matters: Iran was isolated even before the anti-government protests erupted. But the government’s clampdown on mostly peaceful protesters has further alienated the regime and attracted even more punitive measures. Tehran is likely to be further sanctioned and criticized in the coming weeks. Iran’s suppression of the anti-regime protests will be the focus of a November 24 session of the UN Human Rights Council.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Golnaz Esfandiari

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Newsletter

The Farda Briefing

The Farda Briefing is an RFE/RL newsletter that tracks the key issues in Iran and explains why they matter. Written by senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari and other reporters from Radio Farda.

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