Yesterday, Iran's national team kept silent during the Islamic Republic's national anthem ahead of their match against England, in solidarity with the uprising against the ayatollahs.
According to the protesters, the Iranian team is not doing enough to challenge the regime. However, by remaining silent, the players defied the Islamic Republic on live TV, in front of the cameras of the whole world. The team then lost against England, but it was not looking for a victory on the soccer field. After all, Iranians back home preferred that the English team would win the match, as officially the Iranian one still represents the Islamic Republic.
Iranian Defender Hajsafi: Protesters 'Should Know That We Are With Them'
During a Sunday press conference, Defender Ehsan Hajsafi openly supported the protesters. He said: "They should know that we are with them. And we support them. And we sympathize with them regarding the conditions." He then added: "We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy... We are here but it does not mean we should not be their voice or we should not respect them."
London-based media outlet Iran International reported that Striker Kaveh Rezaei expressed sympathy and criticism of the recent killing of the Kurdish people in Mahabad and Javanrud. Rezaei stated: "Stop the killing of Kurdish people... Killing Kurds is equal to killing Iran."
It may not be enough, but after all, the team will pay for any criticism of the regime once they are back home.
The Iranian Team Will Play Against The United States
On November 29, the Iranian team will play against the United States. It would be nice for the U.S. team to show solidarity with the Iranian protesters, as the American soccer players can afford to express their position freely, unlike the Iranian team.
In school, children are taught that sports teach good values, respect, equality, and resilience. The West was not strong enough to oppose the organization of the World Cup in Qatar, a country under scrutiny for its mistreatment of migrant workers and reports of human rights abuses. However, the West can still redeem itself.
The U.S. team should find the confidence and courage, developed in sports, to show that the people in the West are not indifferent. For example, when the U.S. team scores a goal, the players can take their jerseys off and show underneath another shirt with the name "Mahsa Amini" (in Kurdish: Jina Amini), the girl that became the symbol of the protests in Iran after being tortured and killed in custody by the Islamic Republic's "morality" police, or with the slogan of the uprising: "Woman, Life, Freedom."
This Is Showing Empathy And Comradeship
Some people may say that sports should not be "politicized." Yet, this would be showing empathy and comradeship. It is to put into practice the values that sports teach. Athletes in the U.S. have been kneeling in several matches. It would not make sense that during a match with Iran, the same athletes would not stand for human rights, in support for the people of a country that are dying for freedom.
The West can take advantage of the World Cup's spotlight, one of the most watched events on the planet, and make history with a strong message against dictatorship. After all this is what sport is all about: solidarity.
*Anna Mahjar-Barducci is a MEMRI Senior Research Fellow
 See MEMRI TV clip No. 9948, Iranian Protestors Celebrate Iranian Loss To England In FIFA World Cup: Death To The Dictator!, November 22, 2022.
 Cnn.com/2022/11/20/football/hajsafi-iran-protest-world-cup-2022-intl-hnk/index.html, November 20, 2022.