Experts Have Disturbing Predictions For The Iran World Cup Team

On November 29, 2022, the United States defeated Iran in the final game of the group stage of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as Slate reported. The win guaranteed that the USA would advance to the next round of the tournament — the knockout stage — while at the same time sending the Iranians home; ironically, the Iranian side, with a win, would have sent the Americans packing while Iran went on to compete.

Regardless, the Iranian team is headed home, having failed to make it out of the group stage. The result wasn't particularly surprising, as Bleacher Report, for example, had predicted that the USA and England would advance, and that the Iranians and the Welsh would go home, and that's exactly what happened.

Unfortunately for the men who make up the Iranian team, some say they can expect not a hero's welcome when they return, but imprisonment and torture. And that's not necessarily because they lost, but because of their role in protests on the field, seemingly showing solidarity with protestors back home. And of course, the Iranian regime does not tolerate dissent or protest, and the team's soccer players may pay a heavy price.

Iran's reckoning

Since the 1970s, according to Amnesty International, Iran has been governed by a theocratic dictatorship that enforces a strict interpretation of Islamic law. Over the decades, the country has racked up an appalling list of human rights violations, including disappearances, torture, and imprisonment, particularly against women and the LGBTQ+ community. Needless to say, the regime steadfastly and violently puts down any dissent.

However, in 2022 the Iranian people, at extreme personal cost, decided they'd had enough. Beginning in May 2022, according to U.S. News & World Report, protesters took to the streets in opposition to a disputed election; by September, the protests had expanded and had taken on a new focal point: the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody at the hands of the country's morality police.

As CNN reports, the protests have shone a light on the plight of women in the country, and in particular, women have been moving the protests. More than one has paid dearly for it; for example, it's suspected that a teen girl named Nika Shahkarami was murdered for burning her hijab in protest.

The Iranian soccer team gets in on it

Because the FIFA World Cup is an international tournament, national pride takes center stage. Fans are dressed and even painted in their teams' national colors, and each participant's national anthem is played before each game.

The Iranian players said "no thanks" to that, however. As their national anthem played before the country's opener against England, according to the New York Post, the players refused to sing, standing stone-faced and silent, as can be seen in the image above. Lest anyone conclude that the men had forgotten the words or had some other reason to stay silent, Iran's team captain, Ehsan Hajsafi, made it clear, via CNBC, that he and his team were protesting. "We have to accept that the situation in our country is not good and that our people are not happy, they are discontent," he said. "We are here, but it does not mean we should not be their voice or that we should not respect them. Whatever we have is theirs."

It bears noting that the team did sing its national anthem prior to its remaining two games, possibly after a stern phone call from Tehran. As TMZ notes, reports suggest that the Iranian regime had threatened to imprison and torture the players' families if the protests kept up.

The team is possibly going to pay dearly

Expect the men on the Iranian soccer team to face brutal torture for their act of defiance, says former CIA operative Mike Baker, via the New York Post. "Given what we've seen from the Iranian regime ... they've shown themselves to be brutal and there's no reason to believe they're going to suddenly become rational," he said. Had the Iranians beaten the USA, they might have gotten a pass, or at the very least, gotten off a bit lighter, Baker added. "The regime would have used them for their own purposes. They would have spent all the focus on the victory, defeating 'The Great Satan' or whatever clever phrases they come up with," he said. He also added that the idea of defecting to other nations to avoid punishment is off the table, since the players have families back home — families who could face persecution instead.

Iran expert Kenneth R. Timmerman doesn't expect that the men will be imprisoned for life or put to death for their activism, though. "Even if they had won, they would have been arrested, soundly beaten, and warned, 'Don't ever do this again,'" he said.

However, Fatemeh Aman, a fellow at the Middle East Institute, suggests that it was the men's solidarity that may wind up saving them. Had only one or two refused to sing, they might be facing arrest, she said. But since they stayed silent together, "you can't arrest the entire national team at the same time, you can't do that," she said.