News & Politics

Prominent Iranian Soccer Player Arrested for 'Insulting the National Soccer Team'

Image via Twitter

Voria Ghafouri, a defensive back who has played for the Iranian national soccer team, was arrested in Iran for what authorities say was “insulting the national soccer team and propagandizing against the government.”

Ghafouri was left off the national team roster currently competing in the World Cup because of controversial statements about the government he’s made in the past. Ghafouri, an ethnic Kurd, most recently criticized the brutal crackdown underway in Kurdistan. He has also criticized the government’s policy that excludes women from being spectators at soccer matches as well as the mandatory hijab law.

Ghafouri is only the most prominent soccer player to be arrested. Two other players are also in jail, and star forward Sardar Azmoun, who has been vocal about the protests online, was on the bench during the opening match against England.

Ghafouri also expressed sympathy for the family of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was arrested by the Morality Police for not covering enough of her head and died a few days later in their custody.

NPR:

Ghafouri, who was not chosen to go to the World Cup, has been an outspoken critic of Iranian authorities throughout his career. He objected to a longstanding ban on women spectators at men’s soccer matches as well as Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, which has led to crippling Western sanctions.

More recently, he expressed sympathy for the family of a 22-year-old woman whose death while in the custody of Iran’s morality police ignited the latest protests. In recent days he also called for an end to a violent crackdown on protests in Iran’s western Kurdistan region.

Iran’s national team in Qatar refused to sing the national anthem in solidarity with anti-government protests, which, given the huge international publicity that one act got from the media, may have been the most significant protest of the uprising to date.

The authorities didn’t give out much information on the specific reasons for Ghafouri’s arrest, but it may very well have been triggered by that act of defiance by the national team. Totalitarians are like cockroaches: they abhor the light. Shining a media spotlight on their oppression might have caused them to lash out against a prominent soccer personality.

Other soccer players — current and former — are also speaking up.

Iran’s former national team goalkeeper, Parviz Boroumand, was arrested last week for destroying public property in Tehran during a protest on November 15, according to Tasnim.

Boroumand, 47, played for Persepolis FC and Esteghlal FC before retiring in 2007 to focus on social activism and humanitarian work. He was outspoken in his support of protesters in Iran on his social media channels before his arrest.

Former Iranian footballer Ali Karimi posted his support for Ghafouri and Boroumand after their arrests. “For the honorable Ghafouri,” Karimi tweeted Thursday along with a picture of Ghafouri dressed in Kurdish garb.

Karimi, who now lives outside of Iran, has been subject to intense scrutiny from the Iranian government for vocalizing his support for protesters since late September.

The Iranian team upset Wales at the World Cup — a result that no doubt cheered the protesters who are grateful for the soccer team’s solidarity with their movement.  Apparently, the team “begrudgingly sang the anthem,” according to Vanity Fair, and then went out and whipped the tar out of Wales 2-0.

Solidarity is a wonderful thing.