Doha — Iran's players did not sing their national anthem before their first game of the Qatar World Cup against England on Monday, in apparent support for anti-government protesters in their homeland.
Ahead of the game, captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh said the team would decide together whether or not to refuse to sing the anthem in a show of solidarity for demonstrations that have rocked the regime in Iran.
The Iranian players stood impassively and grim-faced as their anthem rang out around the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.
Iran has been shaken by two months of nationwide protests since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in morality police custody on September 16.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died three days after her arrest in Tehran over an alleged breach of the Islamic republic's dress code for women, which includes the mandatory hijab headscarf.
Some Iranian athletes have chosen not to sing the national anthem or celebrate their victories in support of the protesters.
Jahanbakhsh, who used to play for English club Brighton & Hove Albion, was angered last week by a question from a British journalist about the anthem issue.
"Every single player has a different celebration and you ask about national anthem and that’s something that also has to be decided in the team, which we already talked about," he said.
"But we never made a big deal out of it, to be honest, because everybody is only thinking about football."
The crackdown since Amini's death has left nearly 400 people dead, according to Oslo-based group Iran Human Rights.
The state's response has led to questions over whether the team represents Iran or the regime that has ruled with an iron fist since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.