New Delhi: The Iranian football team’s players chose not to sing their country’s national anthem before their opening match against England on Monday at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, reports said.

The players declined to sing their national in an apparent expression of support for anti-government protests in their home country, BBC reported.

Some fans shouted and jeered during the anthem and others held up signs saying “Woman, Life, Freedom”.

As Iran’s national anthem played at Khalifa International Stadium, television cameras showed the starting players standing stoically, but not singing, according to a CBS NEWS report. 

Iran state TV cut its coverage of the anthem and switched to a previously shown wide shot of the stadium.

Prior to the game, team captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh said he and his teammates would decide “collectively” whether they would take a stand during the anthem in support of the anti-government protests. 

In the team’s friendly match against Nicaragua on November 11, most of the players declined to sing the anthem

Mass protests have been met with a fierce crackdown in recent months in Iran.

They have been sparked by the death in custody in September of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was detained by morality police for allegedly breaking the strict rules around head coverings.

Human rights activists have said more than 400 protesters have been killed and 16,800 others arrested in a crackdown by Iran’s security forces.

Iran’s leaders say the protests are “riots” orchestrated by the country’s foreign enemies.

Iranian fans could also be heard chanting “Ali Karimi” in the first-half in reference to the former footballer who is one of the most outspoken critics of the Islamic Republic and one of the most popular faces of the protest movement.

The fans could also be heard chanting “Be-Sharaf”, which means dishonourable in Persian. This is an adjective that protesters have used against security forces in Iran.

Many opponents of the Islamic Republic have criticised the football team for not openly supporting the protests and for meeting with President Ebrahim Raisi last week.

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