Iran World Cup squad won't say if they're singing national anthem amid protests

The Iranian football team kicks off its tournament against England. Credit: PA

Iran's World Cup captain refused to confirm that his team will sing the national anthem as protests continue to rage back home.

Ahead of Iran's opener against England on Monday, Alireza Jahanbakhsh also seemed to suggest that, by asking about the demonstrations, journalists from the opposing camp were playing "mental games".

"You're asking about national anthem - that's something that also has to be decided about in the team, which we already talked about and obviously everybody's talking about," the winger told the press conference on Wednesday.

"But we never made a big deal about it, to be honest, because everyone is only talking and thinking about football."

Iran's beach football, water polo and basketball teams have all recently shunned their national anthem in solidarity with demonstrators in their home country.

Months of protests have rocked Iran following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Ms Amini died while being held by so-called morality police for allegedly violating the country’s compulsory dress code for women.

'Everyone is only thinking about football,' Alireza Jahanbakhsh tells journalists

Over 200 protesters, who are targeting strict morality laws and wider repression, have been killed by security forces, according to rights groups.

Asked how the protests had impacted Iran's team in the lead-up to the Word Cup, Jahanbakhsh replied: "I assume you’re from the English media. To be honest, I’m not sure if England wasn’t in our group you would have come with this question, firstly.

"And secondly, we have been facing this already for a couple of weeks with all the English media – this was all the headlines as we get closer to the World Cup, whatever the reason is.”

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Jahanbakhsh then insinuated that English journalists were playing "mental games".

“But we have just four days to go to play one of the biggest games of our lives – every single person involved in [Iran's national team] – and all of us are focusing on that,” he said.

Some of his teammates, however, have publicly supported the protestors.

'I’m not sure if England wasn’t in our group you would have come with this question,' Jahanbakhsh tells journalists asking about the protests

In September, striker Sardar Azmoun told his 4.9 million followers on Instagram that, although team rules prohibited comment, “but I am no longer able to tolerate silence.”

He said being kicked out of the team would be “a small price to pay for even a single strand of Iranian women’s hair.”

Star striker Mehdi Taremi later spoke of being “ashamed” to see videos from Iran of violence against women in the streets.

Prominent former players Ali Daei and Javad Nekounam both say they’ve declined a FIFA invitation to attend the World Cup amid the protests.

Activists have called for Iran to be expelled from the World Cup, in light of the crackdown on protests and Iran supplying Russia with weaponised drones. However, the team are still set to compete against England on Monday.