Iran hoped to make a major impact in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and started its endeavor against England on Monday.
As players took the field for their first match of the tournament, players remained silent as the country’s anthem blared through Khalifa International Stadium in an apparent show of support for protesters back home. Some players were seen making thumbs-down gestures as well, according to Reuters. Iranian state TV reportedly censored the footage of players lining up before the anthem played.
Ehsan Hajsafi, the captain of Iran’s team, spoke out about the protests Sunday.
“We are with them,” he said. “And we support them. And we sympathize with them.”
Several fans in the stands were also holding signs of support for the protesters.
Protests in Iran have raged since the death of a woman while in the custody of morality police in what is being called the biggest challenges to Iran’s clerical leaders since the 1979 revolution.
In recent days, Iran deployed troops to a Kurdish-majority city in an attempt to regain control of a town that was taken over by protesters. In videos that surfaced on social media, the streets of Mahabad were packed with military vehicles. In one incident, people gathered for what was said to be a speech from the governor, but Iranian forces opened fire on the crowd, resulting in a still unknown number of casualties.
“Saturday evening, November 19, the Iranian regime appears to have imposed martial laws in the Kurdish city of Mahabad. Iran’s terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has reportedly entered Mahabad with heavy military weapons and equipment… The lives of many people are in danger,” The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan said in a statement on the situation Saturday.
The party called on human rights organizations to not remain silent over “the massacre of the Kurdish people,” arguing silence from the international community will only embolden the Iranian regime.
Fox News’ Michael Lee and Reuters contributed to this report.