Iran threatens its World Cup team with jailtime and torture ahead of its final match against the US

Families of Iranian soccer players at the World Cup in Qatar have been threatened with torture and jailtime by their own country’s government if they fail to adhere to pre-match rules ahead of a tense, final group match against the US on Tuesday. 

A source told CNN that a meeting between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) and all 26 soccer players was called upon after the starting XI that faced England on November 21 refused to sing the Iranian national anthem before the start of the match.

Players were told that their families would be subjugated to ‘violence and torture’ if they stay quiet during pre-match rituals and if they joined any groups protesting against the Islamic Republic’s regime. 

Last Friday, the Iranian players sang their country’s anthem ahead of a 2-0 win against Wales.

Following the match, a dozen of IRGC officers had been tasked with surveilling on Iran’s entire World Cup team and coaching staff, who are restricted from interacting with foreigners and people outside of their base. 

Families of Iranian soccer players at the World Cup in Qatar have been threatened with torture and jailtime by their own country’s government ahead of their final Group B against the USA

Players of Iran stand during their national anthem prior to the FIFA World Cup 2022 Group B soccer match between England and Iran at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha

Players of Iran stand during their national anthem prior to the FIFA World Cup 2022 Group B soccer match between England and Iran at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha

‘There are a large number of Iranian security officers in Qatar collecting information and monitoring the players,’ said the CNN source.

Iran manager Carlos Quieroz, who is Portuguese, held a separate meeting with IRGC representatives after they had threatened his squad’s players and their families, the sources added. 

Queiroz has previously said that Iranian players are within their rights to protest at the World Cup, should they still respect FIFA’s standards.   

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has supported his players' right to protest at a major tournament

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has supported his players’ right to protest at a major tournament

Iranian players need to win or draw against the US to make progress to the knockout stages

Iranian players need to win or draw against the US to make progress to the knockout stages

They had been promised ‘presents and cars’ ahead of a 6-2 loss to England, the source told CNN, but the government switched tactics after it felt embarrassed to see none of the players proudly sing the country’s national anthem.

‘In the last game against Wales, the regime sent over hundreds of these actor supporters in order to create a false sense of support and favor amongst the fans. For the next game against the US, the regime is planning to significantly increase the number of actors into the thousands,’ the source said.

The team’s silence in the first round of Group B fixtures came after monthslong demonstrations challenging Iran’s government following the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the country’s morality police.

The protests have seen at least 450 people killed since they started, as well as over 18,000 arrested, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, an advocacy group following the demonstrations.

Iran has not released casualty or arrest figures for months and alleges without providing evidence that the protests have been fomented by its enemies abroad, including the U.S.

Tehran also restricts media access and has detained over 63 reporters and photographers since the demonstrations began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, making covering the unrest that much more difficult.

Members of Iran's riot police wave national flags as fans take to the streets to celebrate their soccer team's win against Wales

Members of Iran’s riot police wave national flags as fans take to the streets to celebrate their soccer team’s win against Wales

A draw or a loss Tuesday (kick-off 2pm EST) would eliminate the Americans, who tied Wales 1-1 and England 0-0. England leads Group B with four points, followed by Iran with three, the US with two and Wales with one.

During unusual pre-match news conferences on Monday, USMNT captain Tyler Adams was asked to defend the US’s treatment of black people and chastised for pronouncing the opponent ‘Aye-ran’ instead of ‘E-ran.’ 

American coach Gregg Berhalter was questioned about US immigration and Naval policy and apologized for the US Soccer Federation’s decision to strip the emblem of the Islamic Republic from Iran’s flag on social media. 

The USSF’s flag decision was meant to support women protestors in Iran.

The US stirred thby referring to Iran without the Islamic Republic emblem on it across social media

The USA World Cup Twitter account upset many Iranians after referring to the country without the Islamic Republic emblem on its flag across social media

‘We had no idea about what US Soccer put out,’ Berhalter said. ‘All we can do on our behalf is apologize on behalf of the players and the staff.’

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz was queried about Sunday’s flag flap, which prompted the governing body of Iranian soccer to make demands to FIFA to expel the US from the tournament. He said he did not intend to use the controversy as motivation.

‘If after 42 years in this game as a coach I still believe that I could win games with those mental games, I think I did not learn nothing about the game,’ he said.

‘We have solidarity with the humanitarian causes all over the world, whatever they are or who they are,’ he added. ‘If you talk about human rights, racism, kids that die in schools with shootings, we have solidarity to all those causes, but here our mission is bring the smiles for the people at least for 90 minutes.’

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