Top Iranian footballer arrested: warning to players in Qatar?

Voria Ghafouri, one of Iran’s most famous footballers, was arrested on Thursday after training with his club Foolad Khuzestan. The government accuses him of spreading propaganda against the Islamic Republic for supporting the Kurds in their protests over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. According to the security services, Ghafouri’s behavior damaged the image of the national football team, the Iranian news agency writes Fars.

The former captain of top club Esteghlal had repeatedly called on the government to end the brutal violence against the Kurds. It is not the first time that Ghafouri has used his profile to express criticism. He was previously arrested for criticizing Javad Zarif, the former Iranian foreign minister.

Warning to World Cup team

Today, the Iranian football team took on Wales, winning 0-2. Iran’s national team refused to sing the national anthem in the earlier match against England. Ghafouri’s arrest can be seen as a warning to the players that their protest was not worth repeating. Today the Iranians sang their national anthem.

Ghafouri was still part of Iran’s national eleven at the 2018 World Cup, but strangely – or not so strangely – he was dropped from the squad for this year’s World Cup in Qatar. In recent days, ministers had accused the 35-year-old footballer of being a Kurdish separatist, to which he replied that he would give his life for Iran. Earlier this year, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “There are people who benefit from the peace and security of the country, who enjoy their job and their favorite sport to the fullest, yet bite the hand that feeds them. “, presumably a sneer at Ghafouri.

Female rights

Ghafouri comes from the predominantly Kurdish town of Sanandaj, in western Iran. During the protests that erupted after the death of Mahsa Amini, the police cracked down in Sanandaj. Ghafouri spoke out on Twitter, writing that “whoever kills Kurds kills Iran”. He also visited some people who were injured during a demonstration in Mahabad, a Kurdish city close to the border with Iraq.

Women’s rights have always been close to Ghafouri’s heart. In 2019, he distributed blue jerseys in tribute to Sahar Khodayari, a woman who set herself on fire after being sentenced to prison for trying to attend an Esteghlal match. Following another violent incident against female football fans in 2021, Ghafouri wrote on Instagram: “As a footballer, I feel ashamed to play at a time when our mothers and sisters are forbidden to enter a stadium. According to many fans, his career at Esteghlal, with which Ghafouri became national champion several times, was therefore shortened.

Ghafouri is not the first professional footballer to speak out against the Iranian regime. Kaveh Rezaei, 30, who played for OH Leuven last season, was also arrested for supporting the protests. And in October, the passport of 53-year-old ex-footballer Ali Daei was confiscated after he had expressed criticism via Instagram.

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