BENJAMIN BARRETT WRITES – On Sept. 13th, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was taken by the Iran morality police, enforcers of traditional Islamic behavior and dress, for incorrectly wearing a head covering. Sadly, Amini died in their custody, leaving many to believe that the morality police were responsible for her death.
This has sparked a huge movement for change in Iran. Protests are taking place in the streets, at work, in schools, and even in sports — some players on the Iran national team have spoken up about their support for the movement.
Forward Sardar Azmoun wrote in Persian on Instagram, “My heart really broke for Mahsa Amini and the likes of Mahsa Amini who are innocent of this. They left the world and left a pain in the hearts of people that history will never forget.”
In an additional show of support, at a recent World Cup warm-up match against Senegal, some Iranian players covered their country’s emblem during the national anthem; they wore black jackets over their jerseys and took them off only after the anthem ended. Many have taken this to be a political statement from the team, although none of the players have otherwise commented, possibly to avoid repercussions from the government. Azmoun has hinted that Iranian officials have banned the team from commenting on anything having to do with the Amini protests. Given these athletes’ influence and platform, it is certainly a possibility.
In a recent letter posted on twitter by Open Stadiums, a campaign that has been advocating equal access to sporting events for women in Iran, Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, was called out for his lack of action. The letter explains that Open Stadiums has been seeking action against Iran for years on this issue, despite Infantino’s promises to hold Iran accountable: “These were empty words and promises.”
The letter concludes with the request to expel Iran from the World Cup in hopes that such action will inspire change in Iran. The World Cup is obviously one of the most popular sporting events globally. Iran has qualified only six times, including the upcoming one, never making it out of the group stage and having won only two games. To miss a World Cup, particularly this year with an improved squad, would be a huge blow to the nation.
Unfortunately, if the team isn’t expelled, some individual players could be suspended by Iranian officials for expressing their support of the protests. Still, those players seem to feel that this is a small price to pay for equality. According to a People article, when asked about the risk he and his teammates took, Azmoun said, “At worst I’ll be dismissed from the national team. No problem. I’d sacrifice that for one hair on the heads of Iranian women. This story will not be deleted. They can do whatever they want.”
Clearly, Azmoun believes that the high cost of social justice is worth, even, the expense of his career.