Iran’s players can support women’s rights, says Queiros, but ‘bringing joy’ is the big task

November 16 – Amid sweeping protests back home, Iran’s players will be allowed to voice support for women’s rights at the World Cup in Qatar but within the rules of the tournament, coach Carlos Queiros confirmed on Tuesday.

“The players are free to protest as they would if they were from any other country as long as it conforms with the World Cup regulations and is in the spirit of the game,” said Queiroz (pictured) at a news conference in Doha.

“But you can also express yourself on the field in the game of football and the players have only one thing on their mind and that is to fight to qualify for the second round.”

Queiroz was brought back for a second stint with Team Melli after the exit of Dragan Skocic and it will be the third time he leads Iran at the World Cup.

The veteran coach has another key asset that is priceless amid the ceaseless turbulence of Iranian soccer: he brings stability and calm. Experienced, he is not one to be messed with. He keeps the federation officials in check and his players pay attention. His leadership brings a degree of organisation that is often, if not always, missing at the FA and club levels.

Anti-government protests in Iran over the death of a 22-year-old woman, Masha Amini, in the custody of the morality police, have rocked the authoritarian regime with rights activist HRANA news agency saying that 344 people have been killed and 15,280 arrested have been arrested.

Iran’s two friendlies in September against Uruguay and Senegal, behind closed doors in Austria, were overshadowed by the protests. The players covered up their national team badge, a gesture that in some quarters was interpreted as a sign of support for the protests.

At the time, Sardar Azmoun, star striker and Bayer Leverkusen player, wrote on social media ‘If they are Muslims, my Lord, turn me into a disbeliever. #Mahsa_Amini’. Vejle BK midfielder Saeid Ezatolahi’s message read: ‘The right of the people is not always money, sometimes it is a tear that you shouldn’t have caused and a sigh that you shouldn’t have put in someone’s chest… #Mahsa_Amini.’ Those posts were later deleted.

But in the recent build-up to the global finals, the team has come in for serious criticism after meeting with Iranian leaders before their departure for Doha, raising an obvious question over their political allegiances.

Through a letter from its president, FIFA implored the 32 World Cup finalists to not be dragged into political and ideological battles, but Gianni Infantino’s attempt to muzzle federations and players with his ‘shut-up-and-play policy’ provoked a strong backlash.

The FIFA president then jetted off to the G-20 to do precisely what he had asked others not do to – play politics, calling for a World Cup ceasefire in the Ukraine war.

Queiroz was asked whether he was proud to coach a country that repressed women, but he tensely batted off the question by how much Sky Sports would pay him to respond to the question.

Iran have been drawn in Group B with England, Wales and the United States. The Americans as well as Gareth Southgate’s team have been notably out of form in the lead-up to the tournament. On Monday, Iran play England in their curtain raiser.

Iran have never reached the last 16 of the World Cup. This is Team Melli’s sixth participation.  “They don’t only want to be part of history but also to make history,” said Queiroz. “If we bring joy and pleasure to the people then we have done our job as footballers and that’s the most important issue for me as national team coach.”

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