For Iran fans in Doha, the battle of ideas takes precedence over football

If Iran saw all the colors against England (2-6), the main thing was played out more in the spans of the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. Make no mistake about it: for Iranian men and women, this World Cup is above all a forum where they share their burning desire for freedom.


In all, three metro lines allow you to explore Doha: the green line – no cinema reference wanted – the red line (no reference at all) and finally the orange line. It is the latter which makes it possible to reach the Khalifa International stadium, where Iran launched its World Cup, this Monday, against England. No small feat, but this in reality, fans of the Team Melli present at the Msheireb station did not care. In the distance, the uninformed might have believed that the Iranian supporters were above all in the race to win the prize for the atmosphere, but it was enough simply to dwell on the T-shirts with explicit demands, on the make-up on the faces of women in the shape of flags or tears in the colors of Iran, to understand that no one, or almost, really had the head in this first confrontation in the World Cup between English and Iranians.

“Today the world is watching us”

In the car that takes part of the large contingent of Persian fans, Ali* is there with his family. No Sardar Azmoun jersey or green-white-red flag drawn on the cheek for the 24-year-old, who preferred to opt for an Iron Maiden t-shirt. “We came here to be the spokespersons for those who remained in Iranhe shouts. To give you an idea of ​​the violence there, I was at a funeral a few days ago. These people killed one of my best friends with a gun right in front of me! » A tragic and good way to remember that behind the songs and the vuvuzelas, the atmosphere is heavy. On the forecourt of the enclosure which hosts the second match of the World Cup, Sarah and two other friends pose with a large Iranian flag for the photographers. She too is 24 years old, and like many other women, this is her first time in a football stadium. “In Iran, stadiums are forbidden for women. We are fighting for these kinds of things which are basic rights, because we suffer from them at home. People have already lost their lives for this fight, and today the world is watching us: I don’t want the media to censor us, because we are there to support the Iranian people. » Sarah is wary, just like Ali, rightly: according to rumors in Iran, 190 agents in the pay of the regime of Ebrahim Raïsi will be in the stadium scattered among the supporters. “Yes, there are going to be government agents in the stadiumassures Sarah. But we will do everything to shout louder than them. »

A few meters from one of the main entrances to the bend reserved for them, tributes to the martyrs of recent weeks follow one another. To tears, like when a man who screams “Say her name” in the middle of a circle has the answer “Mahsa Amini” . Neither more nor less than the name of this 22-year-old Iranian student who dreamed of a better life, before being arrested for “wearing inappropriate clothing” , then died, three days later, in uncertain circumstances. The starting point of a growing challenge and demands shovel repressed in blood. “They don’t let us do anything, whereas what we want is precisely to be able to choose who we want to bepress Nooshin*. I, for example, am a real football fan, and my club in Iran is Esteghlal. (She shows a pin attached to her bag, Ed.) However, before today, I have never been able to see real football. »

Players who lack courage?

A few minutes before the kick-off of the meeting, we hear only the fans of the Team Melli. They whistle for some their own national anthem – which the players have not sung – or chant “England, England” as Harry Kane and his gang bend the knee for them. For some of them, the scenario and the clear English domination cool the atmosphere, which is already well conditioned. If the double of Mehdi Taremi is rather well received, a certain distrust persists towards the majority of the team. Nothing to do with the 6-2. It is a question of lack of ” courage ” , and the hugs on Raisi’s hand before flying to Doha obviously didn’t help matters. The omerta of the players either. If some are pro-regime, others find themselves faced with a dilemma of the first order: to speak out and take the risk of seeing their loved ones or their own person greatly threatened, or say nothing and thus abandon an entire people. Leaving the stadium, Jila*, 33, has her opinion on the matter: “If I’m proud of my team tonight because they didn’t sing the anthem? No, it’s not enough… I don’t forget what they did before they came. And I’m not the only one in this case. The only real heroes are Sardar Azmoun, Ali Karimi and Ali Daei! »

A little later, at a press conference, Captain Ehsan Hajisafi took a giant step: “First of all, I want to express my condolences to all the families who are suffering in Iran. We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not good. Our people are not happy. (…) Everything we do is for them and we must fight and do our best to achieve the best possible result for the Iranian people. » In three days, Iran will set the stage again against Wales for a meeting which will determine its sporting future and will above all be an opportunity to rise again.

By Andrea Chazy, in Doha
*Names have been changed to protect witnesses.
Photos: AC

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