Iran's players sing national anthem ahead of World Cup game with Wales; Some fans jeer the anthem; reports of unrest in and around the stadium as some fans take a stand for women's rights and some pay tribute to 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini who died while in police custody in Iran
Friday 25 November 2022 20:02, UK
Iran's football team sang their national anthem at their second World Cup game against Wales having refrained from doing so in their tournament opener.
The players did not sing the Iranian anthem ahead of their game with England in Doha earlier this week in apparent support of protesters back in their motherland.
Loud jeers were heard from some supporters at the Al Rayyan Stadium as the anthem played prior to kick-off against Wales on Friday, with the team appearing to sing along quietly.
News agencies Reuters and Associated Press said there were reports of unrest both in Iran and outside the Al Rayyan stadium as pro-government supporters confronted peaceful protesters.
Inside the stadium ahead of the match, a number of supporters had shown support for the protests.
A woman with dark red tears painted from her eyes held aloft a football jersey with "Mahsa Amini - 22" printed on the back - a reference to the 22-year-old Iranian Kurdish woman whose death while in the custody of morality police two months ago ignited the nationwide protests.
A man standing next to her held a shirt printed with the words "WOMEN, LIFE, FREEDOM", one of the main chants of the protests.
Another supporter held an Iranian flag with the words "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest), scored through with black lines as a security man stood nearby apparently pointing at him.
Sky Sports News spoke to other protestors after the game who said they'd had bags, flags and T-shirts confiscated and that there were pro-Iranian regime officials inside the stadium trying to intimidate them.
"So when I entered, the lady there asked me to pull my shirt up and show underneath," one protester told Sky Sports News. "I showed Iran and she could not accept and said pull it up even more and when she saw 'free', she said 'not allowed'.
"She asked me to go to another side and take it off. So I went to the storage room, took it off, but I stored the T-shirt inside my shorts and went inside.
"Then when we went inside, a similar thing happened. Some people who were not Iranians pointed at us and a security guard came over to us, he looked at me, he left. Then 15 minutes later, he came back and took our flag and all the t-shirts that we had. I tried to take the bag off him, but he took everything.
"There are so many pro-regime people in the stadium trying to silence us, they do not want to see anything regarding this revolution happening in Iran, they want to silence us, they are scared. I am kind of happy as they are scared of us, everything we do.
"My badge and my cap, they got scared of this, and said take it off, so they just do not want our voice to be heard, so that is why they are doing this."
Another protester said: "We came in with no issues, it was just before the first half finished that a bunch of security guys approached us and told us, 'you are not allowed to wear those T-shirts. Clearly there are no political slogans or signs, this is just a symbol of Asian Iran, this is not even a political statement, this represents Iran.
"So they surrounded us, they were actually nice to us, they were not aggressive, it got escalated when a supervisor came in and they had to check a database of images and slogans to see if these T-shirts are allowed in.
"A FIFA human rights representative actually attended and supported us. He said these were clearly allowed, from FIFA's perspective there is nothing wrong with these T-shirts, but the Qatari security forces had certain rules they had to follow and they told us we had to take it off and they took us out.
"We had to remove the T-shirts, we came back in, and the whole thing to took half an hour or so, so we missed a good 15-20 minutes of the second half," while a third protester revealed how intimidated they felt, adding: "It was quite scary really, we did not feel comfortable."
Iranian authorities have responded with deadly force to suppress protests that have marked one of the boldest challenges to its clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Amini died after being arrested by morality police for allegedly breaching the Islamic Republic's dress codes around head coverings.
On Thursday, prominent Kurdish-heritage footballer Voria Ghafouri was arrested in Iran.
Iranian state media reported Ghafouri had been arrested for "insulting the national football team and spreading propaganda against the government".
Ghafouri is a former Iran international who had been expected to be in their World Cup squad. The 35-year-old has spoken out about continuing protests in Iran and the country's ban on women attending football matches.
He was arrested after a training session with his club Foolad Khuzestan.
Ahead of the World Cup, protesters had taken heart from apparent shows of support from a number of Iran's national teams which refrained from singing the national anthem, such as the basketball team.
Team Melli, as the football team are known, have traditionally been a huge source of national pride in Iran, but they have found themselves caught up in politics in the World Cup run-up, with anticipation over whether they would use football's showpiece event as a platform to get behind the protesters.
Asked on Thursday about the unrest at home, Iran national team striker Mehdi Taremi said they were in Qatar to play soccer. "We are not under pressure," he added after players refused to sing the national anthem in their first match at the World Cup against England.
Before travelling to Doha, the team met with hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Photos of the players with Raisi, one of them bowing in front of him, went viral and prompted an outcry on social media.