World Cup 2022: Iran’s Ehsan Hajsafi speaks out over conditions in his home country

Iran defender Ehsan Hajsafi
Ehsan Hajsafi is captain of Iran’s national side

Iran captain Ehsan Hajsafi spoke out against the situation in his home country before his nation’s opening game against England at the World Cup.

Violent anti-government protests in Iran have been met with a fierce crackdown in recent months.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Monday’s game in Qatar, the 32-year-old said the players “support” those who have died.

“We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy,” he said.

Human rights activists have said more than 400 protesters have been killed and 16,800 others arrested in a crackdown by security forces.

Iran’s leaders say the protests are “riots” orchestrated by the country’s foreign enemies.

“Before anything else, I would like to express my condolences to all of the bereaved families in Iran,” defender Hajsafi said at the start of the news conference.

“They should know that we are with them, we support them and we sympathise with them.”

“We cannot deny the conditions – the conditions in my country are not good and the players know it also,” the AEK Athens full-back added.

“We are here but it does not mean that we should not be their voice, or we must not respect them.

“Whatever we have is from them. We have to fight, we have to perform the best we can and score goals, and present the brave people of Iran with the results.

“And I hope that the conditions change to the expectations of the people.”

The build-up to the tournament had seen calls for Iran to be kicked out of the World Cup, with campaigners citing the country’s alleged military backing for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and human rights issues including its treatment of women.

‘Extraordinary comments’ – Analysis

Shaimaa Khalil, BBC News, Doha

These comments are extraordinary – not so much because of what was said but because of who has said them and where he said them.

It would be unusual for a senior player to say anything political in a tournament like this – but for him to appear to side with the Iranian protestors and to acknowledge people in Iran are unhappy is significant. Remember, he’s making these comments in Qatar, the host of the World Cup and a key Iran ally.

In the last few days, I’ve met a number of Iranian women here in Doha. Some were happy to speak openly and angrily against what’s happening in their home country, others were more reticent – all said they wouldn’t support the Iranian team because it was linked to the Iranian government.

What Hajsafi said today could change this notion. It’s unclear what the repercussions will be for him in Iran – he may be able to claim that he was expressing sympathy for policemen, rather than protestors, who have died.

But this is a country where the authorities have violently cracked down on so many of those speaking out against oppression.

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