Historically, the Islamic Republic feared the success of Iranian soccer players at major tournaments, like the World Cup.

For decades, the regime maintained ignoble feelings that Iran’s success could inspire the masses to pour into the streets in civil unrest. This threatened the security of a watertight Shiite government. As a result, Team Melli never received the ample support they deserve. After all, the Islamic Republic’s agenda revolves around suppression.

Instead, the government’s censorship barely gave the players a fighting chance. Now, the side has only a precarious attempt at World Cup success.

FIFA World Cup controversy

The 2022 World Cup will be Iran’s third cycle under the same head coach, Carlos Queiroz. However, a female-led activist group recently issued an edict to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, requesting to “immediately expel Iran from the World Cup 2022 in Qatar,” citing that since 1979 “Iranian women have been banned from enjoying sports, watching games in stadiums, and cheering for our favorite football teams,”

The spotlight shines on the statutes of soccer’s world governing body. Specifically, FIFA Article 3, a statute that declares “discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or groups,” and Article 4, “Promoting friendly relations between Members, Confederations, Clubs, Officials, and Players.”

Further, FIFA mandates that the government of a nation must not intervene in the affairs of its soccer federation. Article 17 of FIFA regulations state that each soccer federation “shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties.” Per Articles 3, 4, and 17, the Islamic Republic has repressed Iranian players and discriminated against their female fans.

The Arrest of Hossein Mahini

For example, Hossein Mahini – a former international defender who plays for Saipa F.C. – an AFC club owned by an Islamic Republic-subsidized manufacturer – advocated human rights in support of his sisters who fight for sovereignty on the ground. As a result, the ‘Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ arrested Mahini on arbitrary claims of fomenting social unrest. On the contrary, the provocateurs are the five paramilitary groups who commit rash acts that result in the carnage of innocent civilians.

Hossein Mahini with Iran in 2014. (Photo: IMAGO / Fotoarena)

Moreover, Persepolis goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand and Kayserispor defender Majid Hosseini have also spoken out in support of protests. Out of respect for team rules, players like Feyenoord’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh, and AEK Athens midfielder Ehsan Hajsafi, have both remained silenced by superiors. Instead, they have blacked-out avatars and banners on social media.

Recent Displays of Solidarity in Bundesliga and Champions League

Germany has an estimated population of 272,000 citizens of Iranian descent. During matchday eight in the Bundesliga, Werder Bremen and Bayern Munich fans unfurled banners in their respective fixtures, displaying their solidarity with the women-led revolution in Iran.

Coincidentally, Sardar Azmoun’s Leverkusen played against Bayern – the former team of striker Ali Karimi. Azmoun substituted in the 61st minute, welcomed by a roaring Iranian German crowd denouncing patriarchy.

Moreover, FC Porto has had a perennial presence in the UEFA Champions League, with Iranian striker Mehdi Taremi at the helm. On matchday three of the UCL, the Portuguese outfit faced Leverkusen at home in Porto. Slogans in the crowd read #MahsaAmini, calling attention to the heinous crimes that caused her death.

More voices speaking out

In addition, Payam Niazmand has been suspended for supporting the Iran revolution. The goalkeeper played for Sepahan – an AFC club owned by an Islamic Republic steel company. Further, defender Sadegh Moharrami of Dynamo Zagreb donned a black armband in solidarity during his UCL matchup versus RB Salzburg. Finally, former Bayern striker Ali Karimi, who voluntarily exiled himself from the nation, spoke about the despotic Islamic Republic.

“I wish you would censor poverty, I wish you would censor the tears of orphans, I wish you would censor the unemployment of the educated, I wish you would censor addictions, I wish your plundering was censored.”

It is unclear whether or not FIFA permits the Iranian players performing at the World Cup.

Over 80 cities, including conservative rural provinces, proliferate with furious protests against paramilitary factions. These forces have no scruples about executing innocent civilians. Moreover, officials continue to apprehend the women-led masses demanding an overthrow; a regime that has no interest in providing a stable future for Iranian posterity. This is in conjunction with warfare between the IRGC and Sunni Kurdish rebels garrisoned in Iraq. As a result, the turmoil pins players into a predicament.

Team Melli’s Predicament

Iran’s national team faces insurmountable pressure. Engineer students risk their lives in detention while demanding civil liberties. Unveiled middle school girls are expelling their school principals, calling them cowards. Further, Generation Z girls fearlessly taunt paramilitary officials with the middle finger. Not to mention the torture of innocent women. Women wrongfully accused and teargassed earlier this year before a FIFA qualifier in Mashhad. Iranian women were led to the last straw – the death of Mahsa Amini. And now, the deaths of others. For instance, Nika Shahkarami – a teenage girl killed by the IRGC days before her 17th birthday.

Ms. Shahkarami’s death has ignited a furor among Iranian women.

Unfortunately, Iran’s head coach Carlos Queiroz is bearing the fruits of his labor. Since 2011, the Portuguese ‘Mestre’ cultivated and fertilized seeds that have germinated into the strongest roots of Iranian soccer. In Brazil in 2014, Queiroz’s Iran was seconds away from a draw against Lionel Messi’s Argentina. Four years later, goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand stopped a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty kick. Now, it could be ‘the third time’s the charm’.

Seeing the future for iranian players at the world cup

The solution is not for Iranian players to proffer resignations. That would only lead to their federation’s appointment of third and fourth-string players, hungry for a spot to prove themselves on the international stage. Therefore, the onus is on FIFA; should they suspend Team Melli as they did in late 2006.

Further, FIFA suspended Russia earlier this year for war crimes against Ukraine; the Islamic Republic recently supplied Russia with kamikaze drones to bomb Ukraine.

Conversely, if FIFA permits Iran’s competition at the World Cup, Team Melli’s success could fuel the fire of revolutionary ardor, causing a resurgence of protests if they are abated. Currently, the people of Iran engage in piecemeal overthrow of the inimical Islamic Republic. This regime’s retroactive theocracy continues to blackout Iran’s internet. It imprisons a population demanding individual consciousness and free will.