January 12, 2023 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1678

The 2022 World Cup In Qatar – An Additional Arena For Iranian Protests Against The Islamic Regime

January 12, 2023 | By N. Katirachi and A. Savyon*
Iran, Qatar | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1678


Iranians, both men and women, are known to be fervent soccer fans, and are particularly proud of their national team. This year, under the shadow of antiregime protests by young people in Iran, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar also became a venue for Iranians – including the Iranian national soccer team – to protest. At the same time, Iran's Islamic regime has used the tournament for propaganda purposes and for suppressing the protests at home, as well as for spreading its anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian ideology.

Many Iranians saw the national team's players as linked to the regime after they met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi – aka "The Hangman" – and with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who are suppressing human rights in Iran. Glee among Iranians was evident during matches with every goal by rival teams, and the Iranian team's loss to the U.S., the "Great Satan" and sworn enemy of the Islamic regime, was greeted with great joy. Iranians took to the streets to celebrate the Iranian team's loss, honking car horns and shooting off fireworks.

To view Iranians celebrating national soccer team's loss to the U.S. on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

To view Iranians celebrating national soccer team's loss to England on MEMRI TV, click here or below:

Despite the massive regime pressure on the national team's players not to express any hint of solidarity with the protests, prior to the first match, against England, the players remained silent during the Iranian national anthem. This gained them support from many Iranians at home, as well as condemnation and a public warning from the Iranian regime not to repeat the offense. But former national team members expressed solidarity with the protests and the protesters, and criticized the regime in social media posts (see below).

The World Cup pitted Iran against England, Wales, and the U.S. – all representatives of the Western "Satan." Iran's Islamic regime described playing against them as playing against Iran's enemies. Many official regime elements, such as Ali Fadavi, the deputy commander of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), or the regime mouthpiece Kayhan, treated the World Cup as an arena of war against the axis of those hostile to Iran, including the U.S., Britain, Israel, ISIS, and Saudi Arabia. For example, Fadavi said: "For 44 years, a war has been underway between the truth and the lie – that is, between Iran and America... With God's help, we will defeat [the U.S.] in this war [of the World Cup match] as well."[1] Kayhan wrote: "The victory over Wales is Iran's victory over all the Western powers and their allies."[2]

The Iranian regime used the World Cup for propaganda purposes as well as for suppressing the protests. Documents from the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency leaked to the media revealed that the regime had a plan in place in advance of the tournament to use the national team's players to turn down the flame of the protests. It leveraged its connections with the Qatari government in order to prevent symbols of the protests from being brought into the stadiums, so that it would not be embarrassed before the soccer fans of the world. The Iranian regime also made sure that Qatar would refuse to give visas to journalists from Persian-language Western news outlets that are critical of the regime. In a leaked recording of a meeting, Qassem Qarishi, the deputy commander of Iran's Basij paramilitary force that is in charge of breaking up protests, declared that Iran had, thanks to its good connections, obtained from Qatar a full list of Iranians travelling to the World Cup so it could keep an eye on them, and added that hundreds of tickets had been provided to Basij members so that they could attend matches and cheer for the Iranian team. In the end, President Raisi spoke on the phone with the Qatari emir and thanked him for preserving Islamic values at the World Cup. 

Another layer of political propaganda promoting the Iranian regime via the World Cup concerned Israel. The regime underlined, by means of its mouthpieces, the claim that the coldness encountered by Israeli correspondents covering the tournament was proof of massive oppositions to the normalization that Israel craved. Kayhan called the World Cup "an exhibition of the nations' hatred for Israel" and stressed that "the matches became a nightmare for the Zionists, who were forced to disguise their identity." Furthermore, the regime took advantage of the World Cup platform to promote support for its ideal, "the Palestinian Intifada," and stated that the tournament had become an arena of support for the Palestinian nation in its struggle against Israel.

This report will review Iranian antiregime protests at the World Cup and the Iranian regime's use of the event to suppress human rights at home and silence protests against it.

Regime Preparations For The World Cup In Qatar, Against The Backdrop Of The Protests At Home

Documents Leaked From IRGC-Affiliated Fars News Reveal Iranian Regime's Plans To Deal With The Protests At The World Cup

The "Black Reward" hackers group sent to the Saudi-backed London-based Iran International's outlet documents leaked from the Iranian news agency Fars, which is close to with the IRGC. According to the documents, prior to the World Cup, regime-affiliated think tanks and media worked to make use of the national team and prevent its players from expressing support for the protests. This plan, according to the documents, was called "Operation World Cup Plan."

The plan included threatening players and at the same time bribing them, using their coach, Carlos Queiroz, to oversee them and keep them from giving interviews to foreign Persian-language media. Likewise, the regime warned the players that if they refused to sing the national anthem or wore black bracelets as a symbol of protest, they would be thrown off the team.

As part of the plan, the editors-in-chief of regime-affiliated media outlets offered to set up a "media army for producing content" and to use loyal Iranian fans such as Basij members to influence the atmosphere at the matches. They also sought to threaten players and told them that they would be banned from playing in the World Cup if they expressed support for the protestors at home, while at the same time announced that they must keep any punishment they suffered secret and tell no one about it. The plan also recommended that the Iranian Foreign Ministry work with its Qatari counterpart "to reduce the threats as much as possible."[3] 

An audiofile leaked by Black Reward of a meeting attended by Basij deputy commander Qassem Qarishi revealed that the regime had leveraged its connections with the Qatari regime to have the latter prevent symbols of the protests from being brought into the stadium – for example, flags and the like – and also to stop giving entry visas to "undesirable and harmful elements" – that is, journalists from Persian-language Western outlets critical of the regime. Qarishi also informed the meeting that Qatar had requested documents from Iran about these journalists in order to present them as the reason for rejecting their visa requests. He even noted that several World Cup tickets had been provided to Basij members so that they could attend the matches and root for the Iranian team.[4]

Iranian President Raisi To Team Members: "The National Team's Efforts On The Field... Can Defeat The Will Of The Enemies"

On November 14, 2022, before departing for Qatar, team members and their coach Queiroz met with President Raisi and Iran's minister of sport Hamid Sajjadi. Raisi told them, in an attempt to fire them up with the regime's narrative: "The national team's effort on the field is one of the achievements that can strengthen the unity and solidarity of the great Iranian nation, and can defeat the will of the enemies... Those who are not interested in seeing the victory and success of Iran's young people are seeking to disrupt their concentration. Do not let anything [i.e. the protests across Iran] distract you."

Team member Alireza Beiranvand thanked Raisi for his invitation to the meeting and asked for his support, saying: "I am very happy to be here together with the rest of the team members. We thank you for this invitation to meet with you – it is a source of pride for us... I ask that you support us all along the way."[5]

Iranian soccer team members and coach meet with President Raisi and Sports Minister Hamid Sajjadi (Source:, November 14, 2022)

Expressions Of Protest And Solidarity By Iranian Soccer Team Members

The Iranian soccer team's meeting with Raisi "the Hangman," who according to his opponents is notorious for executing thousands of political prisoners in 1988, led to harsh criticism of the players and discussions about who they represented – the Iranian people or the repressive Iranian Islamic regime. Despite the tremendous regime pressures, the players were filmed refraining from singing the national anthem before their first match, against England, at the World Cup. However, in subsequent matches they did sing the anthem, apparently due to regime threats.

Iranian soccer team members refuse to sing the national anthem before Iran vs England match (Source: MEMRI TV Clip No. 9948, November 22, 2022)

Leading Iranian soccer and other sports figures past and present stood alongside Iranians in their antiregime protests. Former Iranian soccer star Ali Daei wrote on his Instagram page that in an expression of solidarity with the citizens of Iran, he had turned down an invitation from FIFA and Qatar to attend the World Cup. He added that the Iranian authorities had threatened him and his family. Lining up with Daei were other former Iranian national team members, including the exiled Ali Karimi, Mehrdad Pooladi and Sosha Makani, along with former soccer player and current soccer coach Yahyah Gol Mohammadi in Iran, who condemned the regime and protested vehemently against the team's meeting with President Raisi.   

The regime did not remain indifferent to these former players' and other athletes' expressions of support for the protests.[6] On December 13, 2022, it was announced that soccer player Amir Nasr-Azadani had been sentenced to execution by hanging, after being convicted of murdering three policemen during demonstrations on November 25, and of treason. He had been arrested two days after the death of the policemen. According to reports, he was nowhere near where they were killed, and at the demonstrations he only shouted slogans in support of rights for women in Iran and freedom. On January 9, 2023, the regime announced that he would not be executed but sentenced to 26 years in prison for "partaking in enmity against God."[7]

Soccer player Amir Nasr-Azadani in tweet by FIFPRO, the International Federation of Professional Footballers, December 12, 2022

Former Team Star Ali Daei: "I Turned Down An Invitation To Attend The World Cup... So I Could Stand With You"

On the day that the Iranian national team met with President Raisi, former team star Ali Daei wrote on his Instagram account that he had, in a gesture of solidarity with the citizens of Iran, turned down FIFA's and Qatar's invitation to attend the World Cup. Later, Daei stated that Iranian authorities had threatened him and his family members:

"These days many of us are not feeling well. I turned down a formal invitation from FIFA and Qatar's Soccer Association to attend the World Cup with my wife and daughters. I did this so I could stand with you and express my condolences to all the families who have lost their loved ones in recent days. Hoping for better days for Iran and its citizens. Ali Daei."[8]

Ali Dei's November 14 Instagram post (

In another Instagram post, on November 27, Daei wrote: "Greetings to the honorable Iranian people, in hopes for an unconditional release of the prisoners in these days. Over the past months and days, I have been witness to countless threats against me and my family, by several institutions, media outlets, and anonymous individuals who consider themselves lecturers, philosophers, and sociologists. [They] attempt to defame me with a misuse of the words of some prominent religious figures, including Ayatollah Bahjat [d. 2009],  whose name they are using for ill intent. They quote him [Ayatollah Bahjat] as having advised me against being active online. I do not know where these claims come from. In his lifetime, the Internet looked nothing like it does today. I learned humanity, honor, patriotism, and liberty from this honorable man. How far will you go with these falsehoods and threats? Ali Daei."[9]

Ali Daei's November 27 Instagram post (

Following these incidents, and in light of Daei's support of strikes as part of the protests, Iran's judiciary announced that the Tehran Police Department had closed down Daei's restaurant and jewelry store in the city.[10] On December 26, 2022, it was reported that his wife and daughter had been removed from a Tehran-Dubai flight at Iran's Kish Island. According to a security official, Daei's wife had left the country illegally, after being prohibited from leaving due to her calls for strikes in support of the protests. It was also reported that her final destination was the U.S.[11]

Ali Karimi, Former Team Captain: "Several Days After The Protests, They Told Me, Via My Family, That They Had Even Sentenced Me To Death, And Would Carry Out The Sentence Whenever They Wanted To"

Ali Karimi, a former Iranian national team captain and one of the greatest stars in the history of Iranian soccer, was one of several former players living outside the country who stood alongside Daei. Karimi gave an interview with the oppositionist Radio Farda on November 29, 2022. In it, he expressed solidarity with and support for the protestors in Iran and told of regime threats against him and ways the regime had tried to bring him to Iran in order to prosecute him. He said:

"For the past 43 years, we always lived in hope, [but] our situation kept getting worse. We were just filled with hope, but this time we had no other choice. We had no other choice. Now we have reached the point where we have no way forward, and there is no way back. We need to finish this work, because if we do not finish the work this time, we will have to wait for a bad outcome. We must not [expect] principled and effective activity from this corrupt regime. All this pain is what led the citizens to this point [to protest against the regime]. My position is clear. I always stood alongside the citizens. As long as I live, I will do what I can for the citizens...

"Several days after the protests, they told me via my family that they had even sentenced me to death, and would carry out the sentence whenever they wanted to. A few days later, when they saw that this threat hadn't worked, they sent me a message via friends that something else had happened and that they absolutely had to talk with me. The new story that [the regime] told was that according to information it had received, a group of Mojahedin [Khalq, an antiregime group] and the Mossad were planning to assassinate me and to blame the Islamic Republic [of Iran for it]. [The regime's message was] 'What we can do is to have you return to Iran, where you will be safer' [and where it will be able to prosecute me].

"After that came reports that they [the regime] know what school my children go to [and] the club where I train. [The regime] used these words to show that it is up to date about me and is monitoring me. I would be lying if I said I wasn't afraid. I worried about my family more than about myself, taking into account what has happened in the past 43 years [hinting at regime assassinations of opponents outside Iran], but happily nothing happened. At the same time, this is not comparable to the threats faced every day by the Iranian people in the recent protests...

"A normal life is the right of every person in the world. But we in Iran have been paying a high price for this for years. Now we all have the same hope – that we will overcome the problems – and I hope that we will all join hands so that normal life and normal civil rights will not be just a hope for us. In the next regime [that will follow the toppling of the Islamic regime in Iran], every man of every status will be able to [simply] live his life."[12]

Former Team Member Mehrdad Pooladi: "How Sad It Is That You Still Don't Understand That Fame Without Honor Has No Value For The Honorable [Iranian] People"

In response to the Iranian team's meeting with President Raisi before traveling to Qatar, on November 14 former team member Mehrdad Pooladi, who also lives abroad, tweeted photos of the Iranian national team meeting with Raisi with "Expired" written across them, and wrote:

"How sad it is that you still don't understand that fame without honor has no value for the honorable [Iranian] people # Sam Beiranvand [young Iranian man shot to death by the regime during the protests on November 9] # Government [Soccer] Team # MahsaAmini"[13]

Mehrdad Pooladi's tweet (, November 14, 2022)

On November 21, prior to the Iran vs Wales match, Pooladi tweeted a cartoon of an Iranian soccer player killing a woman representing Iran with a kicked soccer ball, and called on the Iranian team members to stand alongside the Iranian people:

"[This is] your last chance to be the voice of the people, and to show that you are Iran's national team, not the team of the criminal Islamic regime that slaughters children. Use this opportunity, make a comeback, and give double and quadruple energy to the revolution of the people. The world is watching you now. # Iran # The government that slaughters children # MahsaAmini."[14]

Mehrdad Pooladi's tweet (, November 21, 2022)

Former Team Member Sosha Makani: "History Will Not Forget You, [Oh You] With No Honor"

In a tweet on November 14, 2022, former team member Sosha Makani, who also lives abroad, chastised the Iranian national team members for meeting with President Raisi: "History will not forget you, [oh you] with no honor. # MahsaAmini"[15], November 14, 2022.

Iranian Soccer Coach Yahyah Gol Mohammadi: "You Can't Be Given Any Mark But Zero"

Yahyah Gol Mohammadi, former soccer player and currently a soccer coach in Iran, protested against the Iranian national team members' compliance with the regime's dictates during their meeting with President Raisi. He tweeted:

"This was an excellent opportunity for members of the Iranian team to make the voices of the oppressed and unjustly treated citizens heard to the ears of the [regime] officials, but... In the lesson of the conscience, you can't be given any mark but zero."[16]

Yahyah Gol Mohammadi's tweet (, November 16, 2022)

The regime, for its part, summoned Gol Mohammadi to the office of the Tehran public prosecutor for him to explain this statement.[17]

Iranian Team Member Saeed Ezatolahi Mourns Death Of His Childhood Friend During Celebrations Over Iran's Loss To The U.S.

The Iranian regime's harsh repression also touched the Iranian national team members; one of the victims who died after being shot by Iranian security forces during the demonstrations across Iran that followed the Iranian team's loss to the Americans was Mehran Samak, a childhood friend of team member Saeed Ezatolahi. On his Instagram page, Ezatolahi protested against the regime elements responsible for his friend's death:

"If only we had remained the same age, without worries, without hatred, without fanaticism, without wars to strike blows against one another. There is much to say, my childhood friend, but sadly in our time people are drowning in ego, fanaticism, and turmoil, so that it is hard even to find a [sympathetic] ear for these emotions, if there even is one. There is no doubt that after this loss in the match last night, my heart burned [even] more when I received word of your death.

"Up to these moments, when I posted this story, I have not managed to sleep, oh friend of my past. Be assured that this world loses some of its humanity every day; a handful of men with masks [i.e. hypocrites – that is, the regime elements responsible for Samak's death], who in order to accomplish their goals climb over others. Where is our morality and human spirit[?]... There is much to say, but be certain that the day will come when their masks will fall and the truth about them will become clear. That day, they will be held accountable by your grieving family for your death, particularly by your grieving mother.

"Condolences to your dear family.

"This is not what our young people deserve. It is not what my Iran deserves. It doesn't matter if one [i.e. the regime] is happy to see the sadness of the other, but I am ashamed to see people of this kind."[18]

Saeed Ezatolahi's Instagram post. Ezatolahi, top row center; Mehran Samak, bottom row center (, November 30, 2022)

Iranian Regime Reacts To National Team Members' And Other Iranian Athletes' Expressions Of Solidarity With The Protests

Iranian regime spokesmen, ranging from the regime mouthpiece Kayhan to senior officials such as the IRGC deputy commander and the sports minister, referred to the World Cup in terms of rivalry with the anti-Iran axis, that is, the U.S., Britain, Israel, ISIS, and Saudi Arabia. The regime, which cast the team's wins as victories against Iran's enemies, also used the Iranian team's matches in order to present a front of unity in Iranian society, across all of its sectors. This unity is one of elements of the regime's propaganda for repressing the protests; another such element is its depiction of the protestors as traitors to their country.

Thus, in many of its statements, the regime depicted the sides facing each other as "the truth" – Iran's loyal citizens and the Islamic regime – versus "the lie" – the U.S., the West, the traitorous Iranian citizens who rejoice when the Iranian team loses, and the media that serve them.

Sports and Youth Minister Sajjadi: The World Cup Matches Are "The Peak Of The Fomenting Of Rebellion And Of The Chaos Of The Sworn Enemies Of The [Islamic] Revolution... In Order To Torture The Community Of Athletes For The Benefit Of The False Front And In Order To Triumph In This Cognitive Battle"

At a January 3, 2023 ceremony in the Majlis marking the third anniversary of the U.S. killing of IRGC Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, Sports and Youth Minister Hamid Sajjadi complained about the Western front's alleged organized plot at the World Cup, stating: "This is the peak of the fomenting of rebellion and of the chaos of the sworn enemies of the [Islamic] revolution, who used every means in the soft [propaganda] war [in the media] and the hard [war on the ground] in order to torture the community of athletes for the benefit of the false front and in order to triumph in this cognitive battle. The turning point for the arrogance [the U.S.] focused on the World Cup; they [the Americans] called on their infantry, the hypocrites [regime term for the Mojahedin Khalq], and the monarchists and separatists to [come to] Qatar where they had made elaborate plans to defeat the Islamic regime.

"Some of the enemies' evil plans were thwarted by the precious jihad, and through the precious and unknown efforts of the sons of this land. The old fox [Britain] did everything it could so that our players would seek asylum and leave the field during the match, with the aim of bringing down the team. Beyond this, they also sent airplanes full of members of the hypocrites [Mojahedin Khalq] so that they would shout destructive slogans in order to harm Iran.

"Indeed, all the rulers, from the Great Satan and the old fox to the Zionist regime and some Western countries, prepared a multilayered plot to incite global rebellion against Iran. But, honestly, the counterfeit spirit of the enemies was again humiliated and the Islamic regime passed this stage in triumph and pride."[19]

Kayhan Front Page Headline: "Some Of The Team Members Were Not Zealous [About Iran] And Did Not Sing The National Anthem: Iran – 2, England, Israel, Saudi Arabia, And Domestic And Foreign Traitors – 6"

The day after the match against England, on November 22, 2022, the regime mouthpiece Kayhan published on its front page criticism of Iranian national team members' silence during the national anthem, and accused the enemies of Iran – Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the media – of conducting psychological warfare against Iran. Under the headline "Some Of The Team Members Were Not Zealous [About Iran] And Did Not Sing The National Anthem: Iran – 2, England, Israel, Saudi Arabia, And Domestic And Foreign Traitors – 6," the newspaper termed Iranian citizens who had called for boycotting the World Cup and the team, and had rejoiced at the team's losses, "traitors." The following are translated excerpts from the article:

"The Iranian soccer team lost the match to the strong English team, [but] broke an historic record when it scored two goals in the World Cup. This is despite the fact that as early as weeks ago, the media affiliated with the Zionist regime, Saudi Arabia, and domestic and foreign traitors had launched unprecedented and cowardly psychological and media warfare against this team.

"In addition to the creation of an atmosphere and psychological warfare against Iran, the Persian-language foreign media drew their swords against Qatar's hospitality at the greatest sporting event of 2022. These media, that are affiliated with the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia, with the help of domestic and foreign traitors, spared no effort to open a chasm between the residents of Iran and the team members, including spreading lies.

"The traitors' desperate attempt to boycott the World Cup and spark division amongst the team members was an additional attempt by this movement. In effect, this political and media movement, and especially that based in London [i.e. the Iran International outlet], with the support of and coordination with the traitors at home, joined hands with cinema and sports celebrities, with the media networks and the Telegram channels, and even with mistaken political figures who claim to be reformists, in order to attack the players.

"The evil and audacity of this movement, both in the stadium and on social media, reached such a high level that during the Iran-England match, there were those who cheered and were joyful when the rival team made a goal, and were saddened when they saw the goals by Mehdi Tarami, star of the Iranian team.

"One user online wrote in response to the psychological and media operation against the soccer team, 'No one expected Iran's victory over England, but it will go down in history that in this match, Iran fought, in addition to England, the defeatist elements inside and outside [Iran] – Israel and Saudi Arabia."[20]

Kayhan Editor Shariatmadari: "The Iranian Spectators At The Stadium Shed Tears Of Joy When They Sang [The Anthem] Together With The Team Members"; "Two Goals By The Iranian Team Versus Six Goals By The English Team May Be Considered A 'Loss' By The Defined Calculations, But This Loss Was An Unfair Loss On An Unfair Pitch"

The November 26, 2022 editorial in Kayhan following the Iranian team's win over Wales, penned by the paper's editor Hossein Shariatmadari, highlighted the team members' singing of the national anthem prior to the match, and attributed their failure to do so before the first match to "lack of awareness." It also praised the Iranian team's two goals despite its loss to England. The article stated:

"Yesterday [November 25], at the start of the match with the Welsh team, all members of the [Iranian] team began to sing the national anthem with pride, and the important point is that the Iranian spectators in the stadium shed tears of joy as they sang together with the team members. This worthy incident indicated, before anything else, that the previous match with England, the silence of some team members during the playing of the Iranian national anthem, stemmed from lack of awareness, and from no other reason. Indeed, if this stemmed from another reason [such as support for the protests], they would not have sung the national anthem so enthusiastically at yesterday's match. Therefore, we see a need to correct what we complained about on the front page of Kayhan on Tuesday [November 22] and express our great appreciation for our country's national soccer team...

"We have stressed that the two goals by the Iranian team [vs England on November 21, to whom Iran lost 2:6]  had great value beyond [merely kicking] two goals, and this is because the Iranian team faced not only the British team but also the British government, the Zionist regime, Saudi Arabia, and the mercenaries hired by these governments within the country and outside it with the aim of weakening the morale of our team's players. Therefore, two goals by the Iranian team versus six goals by the English team may be considered a 'loss' by the defined calculations, but this loss was an unfair loss on an unfair pitch...

"The Iranian team's great and proud victory in yesterday's [November 25] match was not only a great victory in sports, taking into account its internal and external aspects. Our country's national soccer team also trampled the wishes and analyses of the enemies of Islamic Iran beneath their powerful steps in yesterday's match, and gave the Iranian nation pride in Iran." [21]

IRGC Deputy Commander Fadavi: "With God's Help, The Americans Will Say Tomorrow Morning [Following The Iran-U.S. Match] That They Were 'Crushed'"

On November 29, 2022, IRGC deputy commander Ali Fadavi wished defeat on the U.S., saying: "For 44 years, there has been war between the truth and the lie – that is, between Iran and America. The other side is doing all it can. Thank God, it [America] has won no victory in these years, and we are doing everything that God told us in order to help us. With God's help, we will crush [America] in this war [i.e. the Iran-U.S. match]... With God's help, we will win. There is no doubt that when our soccer (team's) players use their Iranian fervor, they will win. Wales is stronger than America; one of the Welsh players, Gareth Bale, was stunned at the match and said that they were 'crushed.' With God's help, the Americans will say tomorrow morning that they were 'crushed.'"[22]

Kayhan: "More Important Than The Outcome Of The Game Is That This Team Is The Team Of All Iranian Citizens"

Kayhan's front page on December 1, 2022 took consolation on the day after the Iranian team's loss to the U.S. by claiming a show of unity among Iranian citizens: "Iran's soccer team lost to the American team, and did not proceed to the round of 16 at the World Cup. But the zealousness of the players on our country's team at the tournament was admirable. More important than the outcome of the game is that this team is the team of all Iranian citizens.

"Although our country's national soccer team lost, which upset many, no one ever thought that one day soccer would come to indicate true patriotism, and would distinguish between [true patriots and] those who shout false slogans of patriotism [hinting at the Iranians who took to the streets to celebrate the team's loss to the U.S.]. Those who lay false claim to patriotism worked hard to cause Iran and the Iranians to lose in all areas, including in soccer, where they worked to boycott the Iranian soccer team and block its entry into the World Cup. They arrived [yesterday] to celebrate the team's defeat while still feeling pride!...

"Although we had a losing outcome in the last match, we remained proud, because just as our unity in our joy at the victory over Wales angered our enemies, so our unity in our sorrow made them understand that they had failed in their plans [to divide the Iranian people]. Indeed, the elements that unite the Iranian nation remain in place: Kurds, Turks, Loris, Balochis, Persians, Arabs, and so on – we all prayed together [for Iran to win], we have indeed wanted it badly and while we wanted it so badly and perhaps wept, we remained united."[23] 

Kayhan: "One Of The Most Important Achievements Of Iran's Participation In The World Cup At This Time Was Its Exposure Of The Depth Of The Hatred And Enmity Of Iran's Enemies And The True Face Of Some Traitors Who Claim To Be Patriotic"

Iran's Islamic regime also used the World Cup to strike at the Persian-language oppositionist media. In its December 1, 2022 editorial, it declared that Iran's participation in the World Cup was proof of the failure of the anti-Iran campaigns of these media, and a sign that their attempts to show, falsely, that they were working for Iran had failed. The editorial even struck out at the Saudi London-based Iran International outlet as well as at BBC Persian, after Qatar refused to grant their employees visas to cover the tournament. It later became clear that the Iranian regime was behind this move. The editorial stated:

"Several anti-Iran [news] networks and their newspapers that have been slaughtering the concept of 'homeland' for years, along with some Twitter users who have lost their identity and a few of those who have been misled [a reference to the young people protesting against the regime] have not succeeded in hiding their hatred for Iran and its citizens, and have expressed their joy at the defeat of our country's team on the pretext of opposition to the Islamic Republic... This is despite the fact that this handful [of people] was harshly defeated and mortally wounded due to the presence of the Iranian team among the 32 teams at the World Cup, and the failure of the massive campaigns and efforts to keep our country's team out of these competitions. To this is added the fact that they were banned from entering Qatar – for example, the journalists from the Saudi [outlet] Iran International and the BBC.

"Despite all the enemies' failed [attempts], our country's national soccer team appeared proudly at the World Cup, Iran's beautiful flag was raised in the stadium and in the streets of Qatar, our country's proud national anthem was reverberated at the matches by the enthusiastic players and civilians of this country that were there...

"In a situation in which very strong teams did not even have a chance to participate in the World Cup, and taking into account all the evil that was invested, the fact that the Iranian team succeeded in reaching the second stage until the final moments of the match against America cannot be considered a defeat. Besides that, with the bubbling spring of pure talent of our country's youth and young people, and with good and more updated planning, future World Cup contests and the various sports arenas and the Olympics will definitely prove our land's growing success in these arenas.

"One of the most important achievements of Iran's participation in the World Cup at this time was its exposure of the depth of the hatred and enmity of Iran's enemies and the true face of some traitors who claim to be patriotic... We saw similar behavior in several traitors, when the country succeeded in building all kinds of missiles or successfully launching a satellite into space... Likewise, in the fitnas [civil strife] of 1999 [university student protests] and of 2009 [the Green Movement protests against electoral fraud] it can be seen how the traitors carried out the orders dictated to them by the enemy against the country, and of course in these days and throughout the past months [we are seeing] an updated version of the same traitorous movements.

"It is interesting that those who are responsible for the implementation of the evil plan of the enemies of the country to create insecurity and implement illusions of Iran's disintegration claim today to be patriotic. [They are] dictators who cannot stand even the happiness of the citizens at a soccer victory..."[24]

The Iranian Regime Promotes Anti-Israel Ideology At World Cup

Another element of the propaganda promoted by the regime via the World Cup concerned Israel. The Iranian regime capitalized on the cold treatment of Israeli reporters covering the World Cup, claiming that this proved the great opposition to the normalization sought by Israel. Kayhan called the World Cup an "exhibition of the nations' hatred of Israel" and stressed that attending the matches became a nightmare for the Zionists, who had to hide their identity. The regime further used the World Cup to promote support for the "Palestinian Intifada," claiming that the tournament was an arena of support for the Palestinian nation against Israel.

Secretariat Of Iran's International Conference On Supporting The Palestinian Intifada: The 2022 World Cup In Qatar Was An Arena Of Support For The Palestinian Nation And Against Normalization With Israel

On November 29, the anniversary of the declaration of the end of the British Mandate in Palestine in 1947 and the partition of the region into two states, the Secretariat of Iran's International Conference on Supporting the Palestinian Intifada published a statement marking a "Day of Solidarity with the Palestinians," promoted by the Iranian regime. It said:

"Because of the global colonialist powers' united and unconditional support for the Zionist regime, this regime sees itself as immune to all punishment, and as above all international laws and regulations. [This] encouraged the Zionists to commit all manner of crimes against the Palestinians. Israel is an illegitimate, tyrannical, and occupying regime, and is, according to divine tradition, doomed to ruin. The increase in signs of collapse within the Zionist regime, alongside the growing strength of Islam and the resistance front, will bring about Israel's eradication from the world.

"On November 29, 1947, the UN General Assembly set this day on the world's calendar as the 'Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,' and asked UN member nations to include this day in their calendars. But several decades after this day [of solidarity] was instituted, we now see that the UN remains silent in the face of the occupation, the crimes, and the expulsion of Palestinian Muslims from their homeland by the racist, terrorist Zionist regime.

"The occupying, racist Zionist regime has, in defiance of all laws, decisions, and international guidelines, expanded its settlements in the occupied areas, and continues to expand the scope of the occupation every day to include more Palestinian areas and villages. By means of bombing, killing, and expelling Palestinians, especially Palestinian women and children, it is escalating its aggressive, criminal actions. However, the UN is taking no effective, powerful action such as condemning, stopping, or confronting the Zionist regime. The Zionists, who thought they could use the World Cup in Qatar as a space for legitimizing the occupation and strengthening normalization of relations and ties with Arab and Muslim nations, were confronted with a reality that was the opposite of what they imagined and figured.

"The Zionists thought that normalization agreements with a few Arab countries and Israel would pave the way to establishing their regime's position as a natural entity in the region. But during the World Cup in Qatar, the Muslim and Arab countries showed such hatred towards them that the Zionists even had to deny that they were Israeli. The Arab and Muslim nations are expressing their true feelings with hatred of the invaders at the World Cup in Qatar.

"These positions and behaviors from Muslim and Arab countries are completely consistent with a recent credible survey, which showed that a rising percentage of Arab countries oppose normalization agreements with Israel. Muslim and Arab fans at the World Cup refused to be interviewed by Zionist journalists once they learned who they were. The Muslim and Arab people succeeded in expelling the Zionist enemy from Qatar at the very beginning of the World Cup."[25]

Kayhan Front Page: "Zionist Media Confessions Worth Reading: The World Cup, An Exhibition Of The Nations' Hatred Of Israel"

The front page lead article of the November 28 edition of Kayhan stated: "The World Cup In Qatar became a 'nightmare' for the Zionists. 'Hatred' was the word used by Zionist journalists in describing their situation, after dealing with spectators from around the world. They acknowledged that in order to protect themselves, they often had to lie and say they were from another country.

"Experts say that one of the tasks and special missions of the Zionist media's participation in the World Cup was to assess the degree of normalization with Arab countries. The widespread negative responses in Doha point to total failure.

"A 'Hebrew Channel 12' correspondent in Qatar confirmed the matter, referring to the signing of four normalization agreements and saying that 'most of the Arab nation does not like our presence here.' A correspondent for the Israeli regime's Channel 13 told of even worse scenes for the Zionists in Qatar, saying that the Hebrew media journalists do not dare to even take out their microphones or talk to the technical crew during the press conferences held by the various teams. Moreover, many video clips were published showing people avoiding contact with a journalist as soon as they discover he is a Zionist, humiliating him. It should be noted that these reports documented the clear distance between what is said in the media by the Zionist regime and what is actually happening."[26]

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani: "The 2022 World Cup In Qatar Became An Exhibition Of The Contempt In Public Opinion For The Zionist Apartheid Regime"

On November 30, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani tweeted about the World Cup in Qatar and Israel: "A few normalization agreements with Arab governments can never remove the hatred Arab countries have for Israel. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar became an exhibition of the contempt in public opinion about the Zionist apartheid regime, and [also became] a declaration of the nations' solidarity with Palestine's goals. The occupying Israeli regime is hated by the nations."[27]

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani's tweet (, November 30, 2022)

Anti-Israel Cartoon In IRGC-Affiliated Tasnim News Agency

On December 2, 2022, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim news agency published a Hebrew-language cartoon depicting the anti-Israel hostility expressed by some World Cup fans. Titled "The Palestine World Cup," it showed the World Cup as Palestine, in which Palestinian national soccer team members representing Hebron, Gaza, Jerusalem, Nablus, Jenin, and the "1948 territories" all kick an Israeli soldier shown as a soccer ball; the soldier holds a gun dripping Palestinian blood.[28]

Cartoon published by Tasnim news agency (, December 2, 2022)

*N. Katirachi is a Research Fellow at MEMRI; Ayelet Savyon is Director of the Iran Media Studies project.


[1], November 29, 2022.

[2] Kayhan (Iran), November 25, 2022.

[3] Iran International (London), November 29, 2022.

[4] Iran International (London), November 27, 2022.

[5], November 14, 2022.

[6] Against the backdrop of the World Cup, champion Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi expressed solidarity with the protests at an international competition in South Korea in October when she competed without her hijab. When she landed back in Iran with a regime official at her side, she explained that it was a misunderstanding. Several weeks later, a video was shared on social media showing her family's home destroyed on orders of the regime. Regime officials, on their part, stated that the video was old and also that it had been built illegally. Tasnim, Iran, December 3, 2022. Additionally, top Iranian chess player Sara Khadem Al-Sharia, 26, played without her hijab in Khazakhstan and apparently was forced to seek political asylum in Spain., Iran, December 26, 2022.

[7], January 9, 2023.

[8], November 14, 2022.

[9], November 27, 2022.

[10], December 5, 2022.

[11], December 26, 2022.

[12] Radio Farda (Czech Republic), November 29, 2022.

[13], November 14, 2022

[14], November 21, 2022

[15], November 14, 2022.

[16], November 16, 2022.

[17], November 19, 2022.

[18], November 30, 2022.

[19], January 3, 2023.

[20], November 22, 2022.

[21], November 26, 2022.

[22], November 29, 2022.

[23], December 1, 2022.

[24], December 1, 2022.

[25], Iran, November 29, 2022.

[26], November 28, 2022.

[27], November 30, 2022.

[28], December 2, 2022.


Share this Report: