Iran is threatening its national soccer team with dire consequences if players don’t “behave” at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar after they appeared to signal solidarity with Iran’s ongoing protests last week, a source told CNN.
The anonymous source said Iran’s players were summoned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful branch of the country’s military, and told their families would suffer “violence and torture” if they crossed the regime again.
The grim warning comes after Iran’s players remained silent during their national anthem before their first game last Monday. That was widely interpreted as support for a massive wave of protests back home that has been described as the most significant challenge to the Iranian regime in decades.
Iran players sang the national anthem at their next game four days later, CNN reported. They’ll play their third game, against the USA, Tuesday afternoon.
CNN’s source said dozens of IRGC officers are monitoring the country’s players, who are kept in a tight social bubble among themselves.
The Portuguese coach of Iran’s team, Carlos Queiroz, met separately with IRGC officers after they threatened the team, CNN reported. The outcome of that meeting isn’t clear, but Queiroz previously said “the players are free to protest,” as reported by the Athletic.
The source also said Iran packed the stands in its second game, against Wales, with “hundreds” of actors paid to “create a false sense of support and favor amongst the fans.”
“For the next game against the U.S., the regime is planning to significantly increase the number of actors into the thousands,” the source said.
The Iran protests broke out in September after a 22-year-old woman, accused of improperly wearing her hijab, died in the hands of the country’s morality police. Now in their third month, the protests have spread across the nation despite a crackdown that has seen the state use live ammunition, NPR reported.
Iran recently acknowledged that more than 300 people have been killed in the protests, NPR reported.