Video showing Iran’s national water polo team not singing the national anthem at this week’s Asian Water Polo Championships in Vietnam has been interpreted by many of the country’s citizens as an act of protest.
A video circulating on social media shows members of the team and coaching staff standing stone-faced during the playing of the country’s national anthem prior to the match. That video comes from the official match replay on the Thailand Swimming channel. That is in contrast to the India team, which sings along to its national anthem.
That match was Iran’s first of the tournament; it appears that tournament organizers only played national anthems before a team’s first match of the tournament and again before the medal matches. SwimSwam could not identify any other videos of Iran’s national anthem being played before matches in the tournament, including before their bronze medal match against Kazakhstan.
In isolation, athletes not visibly singing their country’s national anthem before a match is not in-and-of-itself damning. In context, though, the interpretation was a contribution to the 8-week-old anti-government protest movement that has swept through Iran.
The demonstrations began in September after a 22-year old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, died under suspicious circumstances. She had been detained by Iran’s morality police on allegations that she flouted the country’s strict dress code imposed on women.
The protests have escalated and broadened in scope and intensity, reported to have spread to 140 cities and towns across the country. According to activist group Iran Human Rights, at least 326 protesters, including 43 children, have been killed by security forces cracking down on protests. Iranian courts have also ruled that protesters should be punished heavily as a deterrent to the protests, with a Revolutionary Court in Tehran issuing its first death sentence to a protester this week.
A week before the water polo match, members of the country’s national beach soccer team refused to sing Iran’s anthem at the beginning of a match against UAE in Dubai. That prompted Iranian television to stop televising the match live and authorities to issue warnings both against the players and against the host country UAE for failing to stop chants of protest slogans among spectators. One player mimed a hair cutting gesture after scoring a goal, a sign of solidarity with the protesters.
Members of Iran’s national beach soccer team refused to sing the Islamic Republic’s anthem at the beginning of a match in UAE Intercontinental Beach Soccer Cup. Surprised by the act of protest, Iran’s state TV stopped its live broadcast. pic.twitter.com/gSw8dIIprt
— Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) November 6, 2022
Since the protests began, several individual female athletes have competed without headscarves in violation of Islamic norms, though that has frequently been followed by social media posts clarifying that they were not acts of protest and accusing the media of manipulating the facts. Iran’s deputy sports minister, Maryam Kazemipour, apologized for the athletes’ actions on Wednesday.
Among the most brazen of these acts was Iranian archer Parmida Ghasem removing her headscarf and holding up two fingers in a symbol of peace during official podium pictures at a competition in Iran. As her teammate moves to replace her headscarf, Ghasemi stops her. In spite of the seemingly-intentional nature of the act, she later posted a video apologizing on Instagram, saying that she did not noticed that she was left without a scarf “due to the wind and so much stress.”
An onlooking crowd cheered her act.
Making history! Iranian archer #ParmidaGhasem removes headscarf to show support for the protests in Iran during an award ceremony of a competition in Tehran: before the cameras and while officials are around. Bold! #MahsaAmini #مهسا_امینی #IranRevoIution pic.twitter.com/6QGmMTVlp9
— Omid Memarian (@Omid_M) November 11, 2022
Iran finished 4th in the tournament, behind Japan, China, and Kazakhstan. Japan and China, as the top two finishers, qualify for the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.
Brave men. I hope this subtle protest doesn’t result in their execution when they return home
Iranian athletes are doing things like this in great numbers. There’s a video out there of a national team archer on the podium in Tehran and she takes her hijab off!
Only difference is that these men may actually live to see another day. Have the slimmest of hopes it makes a difference someday and they’re allowed the freedom we take for granted over here in the U.S.