1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Iranian sports world criticizes regime​​​​​​​

Jens Krepela with Farid Ashrafian
October 5, 2022

Following the arrest of a former international player, more Iranian athletes are criticizing the government's brutal actions toward protesters. Ex-Bayern Munich player Ali Karimi has become a figurehead in the protests.

Members of Iran's national team are seen wearing black training jackets to cover their team emblems
Iran's national team donned their black training jackets to cover their team emblems against SenegalImage: Johannes Friedl/GEPA pictures/IMAGO

Iran men's team shows support for Iranian women

Hossein Mahini, another Iranian international, was arrested and his home searched after he offered support for the protests that followed the death of Mahsa Amini. Amini died while in custody after being detained by Iran's "morality police"who enforce rules on hijabs and other conservative Islamic modes of dress and behavior.

Mahini is now part of a broad front of prominent Iranians athletes who are condemning the violence and positioning themselves against the regime.

Iranian football icon and former Bayern Munich player, Ali Karimi, publicized Mahini's arrest via his closely-followed social media accounts. He had previously condemned the unexplained circumstances surrounding Amini's death. Not even holy water could "wash away this disgrace," Karimi wrote.

Protesters have reportedly been chanting Karimi's and Mahini's names in demonstrations around the country. Last week, Karimi's house in Tehran was seized for several days.

Fans of Karimi's former club, Bayern Munich, offered support to the protests in Iran when during Friday's Bundesliga match against Bayer Leverkusen, fans unfurled a banner that read: "Women, Life, Freedom! Solidarity with the feminist revolution in Iran!"

Werder Bremen fans also put up a banner during their club's match on Saturday against Borussia Mönchengladbach reading: "Down with the patriarchy, down with the Mullah regime. Long live the feminist revolution in Iran."

Beyond football 

Iranian athletes from other sports are also standing up to those in power.
Sadjad Estaki, who in 2015 became the first Iranian to play in Germany's renowned national handball league, announced his resignation from the Iranian national team in protest of the heavy-handed response to Iranian demonstrations.

Mojtaba Abedini, the country's most successful fencer and captain of the national team, has also quit. "Out of solidarity with the oppressed citizens of my homeland," Abedini posted. "I see it as my duty to declare my resignation from the national team in light of these events and out of respect for them."

Protests in Tehran
The barricades are still burning in Tehran weeks after the death of Mahsa AminiImage: WANA NEWS AGENCY via REUTERS

Active players have also offered their support to the protests.

"Shame on you all, how carelessly people are murdered! Long live Iranian women!" posted Sardar Azmoun, the Bayer Leverkusen attacker. His post was later deleted, however, and an apology posted in its place.

But other Iranian teammates condemned the violence against the demonstrators.

"We are always on the side of the people who demand nothing but their basic rights these days," wrote Iran national team captain Alireza Jahanbakhsh.

The response to these statements, however, has been divided. Many fans on social networks were angry that the criticism was too hesitant and timid. For the national team, which is the center of the sporting world for the football-loving people of Iran, support is crumbling shortly before the World Cup in Qatar.

No World Cup for Iran?

The Iranian women's rights group known as Open Stadiums has called on FIFA to expel Iran from the upcoming men's World Cup.

"Why should FIFA give the Iranian state and its representatives a global stage?" reads a letter that the organization sent to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. "This state not only refuses to respect fundamental rights and human dignity. It tortures and kills its own people."

The purely sporting perspective seems to have faded completely into the background in Iran. Solidarity and the fight for more women's rights has united many.

Record-appearance holder Ali Daei spoke out against oppression and violence via Instagram, while former international Mehdi Mahdavikia was not afraid to warn those in power after the arrest of Hossein Mahini: "These days will go down in the memory of history," the 45-year-old former Hamburg and Eintracht Frankfurt player wrote.

In addition, he posted in symbolic fashion eight hands and arms holding each other. They stand for the country's various ethnic groups, which, according to the repeated concern from Tehran, could fall apart if there is no longer a strong central leadership. Their power is being shaken by the protests.

This article was adapted from German.

Jens Krepela
Jens Krepela Editor, reporter and author