Iran’s national soccer team sang the Islamic Republic’s national anthem before a Tuesday match against the United States, following threats from the hardline regime to imprison and torture the players’ families.
The Iranian athletes have been in the international spotlight as much for their off-field behavior as for their on-field play. During the team’s first game at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the players stood silent as their country’s national anthem played, a gesture meant to signal support for protesters at home who have been organizing against the hardline regime for more than two months.
While Iranian regime officials attempted to downplay the incident and stop viewers in the country from seeing the silent protest, they have resorted to threats of violence—a tactic they have employed against protesters who have taken to the streets across the country.
Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which runs the country’s espionage activities and terrorism operations, reportedly gathered the players for a meeting at which they threatened to subject the athletes’ families to “violence and torture,” according to CNN. Qatar, which is an ally to Iran, is seen as a safe location for the IRGC to freely operate.
“Dozens of officers from the IRGC had been drafted in to monitor the Iranian players who are not allowed to mingle outside the squad or meet with foreigners,” according to sources who spoke with CNN. “There are a large number of Iranian security officers in Qatar collecting information and monitoring the players.”
The intimidation tactics appeared to pay off on Tuesday, when the Iranian team sang the country’s national anthem prior its widely watched game against the United States.
Iran has also reportedly sent scores of regime supporters into Qatar with the hopes of creating the impression that there is support for the hardline government, another tactic meant to distract from its crimes at home.
A State Department official who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon this week expressed support for the Iranian athletes and said that it is closely monitoring the regime’s behavior.
“Iran’s leadership should be heeding their athletes’ calls for change, rather than stifling them through intimidation and threats,” the State Department said. “The people of Iran and the nations of the world will be watching the athletes’ treatment upon their return to Iran. If Iranian authorities deny the athletes their fundamental rights, it will only serve to further isolate Iran from the world.”