Members of Iran’s national water polo team stand before competing with Korea’s national water polo team after showing solidarity with the anti-government movement by not singing their national anthem ahead of matches in the Asian water polo tournament (Image: Reuters)
By Reuters: Video clips allegedly showing Iran’s water polo team not singing the national anthem during a match in Thailand have surfaced on social media in what the anti-government protest movement sees as the latest display of athletes’ solidarity.
The video was shared online by many regular Iranian Twitter users. It showed that the men’s team did not sing when the Iranian national anthem was played on Tuesday during an Asian Championship match against India in Bangkok.
Reuters could not verify the video clips and the Iranian Federation of Swimming, Diving and Water Polo was not available for comment.
Iran’s Deputy Sports Minister Maryam Kazemipour said on Wednesday that some Iranian female athletes acted against Islamic norms and subsequently apologized for their actions, the state news agency reported.
Social media users saw the refusal to sing as a sign of support for the eight-week-old protests, one of the biggest challenges facing Iran’s spiritual leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
“One of the most radical actions of Iran’s national water polo team. We know sports teams that have sided with the people and we appreciate your support,” said an unverified Twitter user.
In September, anti-government demonstrations erupted after the death of a Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, who had been detained by the vice squad for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code imposed on women.
The protests soon turned into a popular uprising, with people ranging from students to doctors to lawyers to workers and athletes.
The Basij militia and other security forces have cracked down on the unrest, but protesters are sticking to their demands to end harsh Islamist rule under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On Wednesday, shopkeepers in some Kurdish towns went on strike to show their respect for the dozens of people killed in the city of Zahedan on Sept. 30, the Kurdish rights group Hengaw said.
Amnesty International said security forces killed at least 66 people there. Authorities in Zahedan have fired the police chief and the head of a police station near the murder scene.
Shopkeepers in the market town of Valiasr in Tehran province also closed their shops on the 40th day since the killings took place, according to HRANA news agency.
SUPPORT FOR ATHLETES
The water polo team’s behavior was not the first time Iranian athletes have taken actions seen as statements of support for the protests.
Last week, players of the national beach soccer team refused to sing the Iranian national anthem at the start of a game against the United Arab Emirates in Dubai, according to a widely followed activist Twitter account known as 1500TASVIR.
On Sunday, the players did not cheer or celebrate after beating Brazil to win the championship, the account said.
An Iranian player celebrated his goal by pretending to cut his hair, a gesture of protest from Iranian women, who have been at the forefront of the protests.
Iran’s Beach Football Federation said on Monday that the players’ actions were “unwise”.
Another Twitter user, identified on the site as Mehdi Andarziyan, a student, reprimanded the authorities for not quickly eradicating dissent, saying:
“Mr. Sports Minister, if you had slapped the beach soccer players, the water polo players would not have missed the anthem of the Islamic Republic!”
Speed skater Niloufar Mardani performed without a headscarf in a competition in Turkey on Sunday. She later posted a video shared on Telegram accounts, which Reuters was unable to verify, showing her apology.
The images show that she participated independently in the skating tournament in Turkey and that she did not see that her veil had fallen off when she took off her helmet.
Mardani said her story was manipulated by “foreign media”.
Iran’s Ministry of Sports said Mardani has not been allowed to participate in the event in Turkey. It criticized her performance and said it had not been part of the national team since last month.
The activist news agency HRANA said 321 protesters were killed in the unrest on Monday, including 50 children. State media said last month that more than 46 members of the security forces had been killed.
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