Back in 1997, Iran’s soccer team was the last team to qualify for the World Cup, and Ali Shurideh, an assistant professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon, remembers celebrating the team’s victory over Australia as a symbol of the country’s discovery. He was 17 at the time and had just cast his first vote for Iran’s progressive president, who had promised to open dialogue with other countries.
But Shurideh said he will root for the U.S. soccer team in their match against Iran because he worries that if the Iranian team won, the government would use the victory as propaganda for the Iranian regime.
“They will be able to mobilize their fans to the fact that we have a national team that has gone down in history,” he said. “They’re going to create a little bit of a sense of desperation about this kind of silent opposition that doesn’t necessarily come out and protest in the streets. But they support the protests.”
The Iranian Students Association of Pittsburgh planned six months ago to watch the World Cup match today at Carnegie Mellon. But according to Tarane, a graduate student at Pitt who did not want to give her full name because she fears repercussions if she returns to Iran, the group canceled the event after some of its members became upset with the Iranian team for not showing enough support for the protesters. in Iran.
When protests erupted in Iran in September following Masha Amini’s death, Taraneh’s father closed his store in Tehran, where he sells auto parts and paint. Neither of her parents can protest and, in fact, avoid going out at night during the protests because so many bystanders have been shot, she said. In Taran, there were problems with access to parents, as the Iranian government restricted the access of Iranians to the Internet.
So Tarane supports the US. “This is not Iran’s national team,” she said. “This is the national team of the Islamic Republic.”
Tarene participated in three protests in Pittsburgh: one downtown, one on the Pitt campus, and one at Carnegie Mellon. She also attended the unveiling of Amini’s mural in Troy Hill.
Iran’s players refused to sing the national anthem before the match against England. And some news has it suggested that the Iranian government threatened the players and their families if they did not support the government. Terene acknowledges the pressure the government is putting on the players, but said the players could have shown support back in Iran before the team left for Qatar. And after he scored the game-winning goal against Wales, they could show their support for the protesters without celebrating.
“It’s unacceptable from people because we’re all grieving,” she said. “15 thousand people were arrested. More than 500, more than 700 were killed in the streets. So that’s not something we as a nation can be happy about.”
Eliana Sharbaji, president of the Association of Middle East and North African Students, grew up in Syria and blames the Iranian government for supporting her government for a decade. She remembers that Iranian forces armed checkpoints back in 2012, when she was still in Syria. She felt conflicted about who to support. “I want the Iranian team to win. But at the same time, their presence here in Qatar with the support of the Iranian regime is not what I want,” she said.
In the long run, she said, when there is a regime change in Iran, she thinks people will look back and see the Iranian team’s performance as a victory for the people of Iran, not its government. She planned to watch the game with an Iranian friend and said they would look for signs that both teams were supporting protesters in Iran.
Shurideh said Iran’s success at the start of the World Cup could lead to more support for Iranian protesters. But during the match against the United States, he worried about the consequences at home.
“We all grieve in some way,” he said. “And that grief makes it harder to cheer for a football game.”