A former CIA covert operations officer has claimed that Iran’s World Cup squad may face retribution upon its return to the Islamic Republic after losing 1-0 to the US on Tuesday, ending their chances of progressing to the tournament’s knockout stages.
‘Given what we’ve seen from the Iranian regime … they’ve shown themselves to be brutal and there’s no reason to believe they’re going to suddenly become rational,’ an ex-CIA covert operations officer told The New York Post, adding that the Iranian players are being put in an ‘untenable situation’.
Last week, Iran’s starting XI against England refused to sing the country’s national anthem before the start of the opening Group B match. The silence from the players was a sign of protest over the murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who allegedly died from police brutality while being held in custody for not properly wearing a hijab in September.
At least 451 people have been killed since demonstrations in Iran started, and well over 18,000 have been arrested, according to Human Rights Activists, an advocacy group following the demonstrations.
Families of Team Melli’s playing and coaching staff were then threatened with torture and jail time by Iran’s government if they failed to sing the national anthem prior to the team’s final group match against the US on Tuesday, a source told CNN.
A meeting between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG) and all of Iran’s 26 soccer players was called upon after the 6-2 loss against the Three Lions, the source added.
In the next game against Wales – a 2-0 win for Iran – all starting players were seen proudly singing their country’s national anthem before doing it again against the US though a win would have helped cover the team’s offense in its first World Cup match.
‘The regime would have used them for their own purposes,’ the ex-CIA officer further told The Post. ‘They would have spent all the focus on the victory, defeating ”The Great Satan” or whatever clever phrases they come up with.’
The Iranian players in Qatar have declined to comment or made vague statements about the protests in Tehran, which have intensified after Iranian rock climber Elnaz Rekabi was placed under house arrest for taking part in a competition abroad last month without a mandatory hijab.
Many Iranian women observed the athlete’s gesture as a sign of solidarity for Amini, though she was later coerced into making a forced apology after receiving threats claiming her family’s property would be seized.
Now, the Iranian national soccer team could face sanctions or even arrest once they return back to the homeland after losing to the US, as retribution for their ‘traitorous’ acts and for failing to beat their political rivals, the ex-CIA officer said.
‘Neither is good if you’re an Iranian player upon returning home,’ he told The New York Post.
Even some protesters at Al Thumama Stadium said they felt threatened by pro-government officials on hand.
‘The government of Iran does not look at it as just a football game but a political platform to show the world, ”Look, we are just normal people having fun, nothing is going on,” Farshid, a 47-year-old Iranian from London on hand for Tuesday’s match who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals, told the Associated Press. ‘But now thousands of people are in the streets of Iran.’