The Iranian government is threatening the country’s football team with imprisonment if they engage in political activity while representing Iran at the World Cup, a security source said.
Ahead of Iran’s match with England, the team refused to sing their national anthem in a spectacle that was viewed as an act of solidarity with the protesters who are currently taking to Iran’s streets to voice their discontent with the government’s oppression of women.
According to a source who spoke to CNN, the act of defiance earned the team a meeting with members of the Iranian National Guard Corps (IRGC), where players were threatened with “violence and torture” if they act up again.
Photos of them bowing to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during the protests, ahead of their trip to Qatar, prompted outrage on social media among Iranians who decried the players as toadies for the hardline regime, not Iran.
The CNN source said that the players were previously promised “presents and cars” before the match with England but after the “humiliation of the team’s refusal to sing their national anthem,” they were instead threatened.
The source also claimed that the IRGC placed “dozens” of operatives to keep an eye on the Iranian players, who are prohibited from mixing with foreigners.
“There are a large number of Iranian security officers in Qatar collecting information and monitoring the players,” the source said.
CNN reported that Carlos Queiroz, the team’s coach, said that players were “free to protest as they would if they were from any other country as long as it confirms with the World Cup regulations and is in the spirit of the game.” The IRGC reportedly met with Queiroz after their refusal to sing the national anthem.
In addition, the source claimed that the Iranian regime sent “hundreds” of pro-Iranian actors to create a “false sense of support and favor amongst the fans” to give them the appearance of support against their competition abroad.