Iranian soccer player Voria Ghafouri arrested in World Cup scrutiny


A prominent Iranian footballer was arrested on Thursday for, among other things, damaging the reputation of the country’s national team, which competes in the World Cup, state-linked Iranian media reported Thursday.

The player, Voria Ghafouri, is a former member of the Iranian national team and a frequent critic of the government. His arrest came at a time when Iranian soccer players are under close scrutiny for their statements about a nationwide uprising in Iran that has been going on for months.

Iran’s World Cup squad silently nods to home protests

Iran’s national team, in a game against England on Monday, refused to sing during the playing of the country’s national anthem, in what was widely seen as a silent acknowledgment of the protests. Iran’s national broadcaster showed selected images of spectators cheering on Iran during the match, but not the political signs carried by some.

The protest in Iran began in September after a young Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, died in police custody. The uprising against Iran’s religious leaders has spread across the country and sparked a fierce and deadly crackdown, including in ethnic Kurdish areas, where human rights groups say dozens of people have been killed in the past few days.

The UN Human Rights Council in a vote launched on Thursday investigation on alleged rights violations in Iran’s response to the protest movement. “Today’s session leaves no doubt that HRC members recognize the gravity of the situation in Iran, and the fact-finding mission established today will help ensure that those engaged in the repression ongoing violence of the Iranian people are identified and their actions documented,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a press release.

Rights groups say Iran is stepping up crackdowns in Kurdish areas

Ghafouri, who is Kurdish, has criticized government officials on social media in the past and recently posted messages on Twitter condemning the killing of Kurds. Iranian media did not specify the reasons for his arrest, but said the charges included “spreading propaganda against” the Islamic republic.

He has been called up several times over the past decade for the national team and has played for several Iranian club teams, including Foolad Khuzestan, his current side. ISNA, a semi-official news agency, reported on Thursday that Hamidreza Garshasbi, the team’s CEO, had resigned, and said the reason for his resignation had not yet been announced.

Even before the start of the World Cup, some Iranians had called on soccer’s world governing body FIFA to ban the national team, known as Team Melli, in a show of support for the protests. Others argued that Iran’s participation in the World Cup was a boon to the uprising: a high-profile event that gave players and spectators an opportunity to voice their dissent, under the watchful eye international media.

Iran are set to face Wales on Friday.

World Cup in Qatar

Live updates: The final eight teams to debut in Qatar take to the pitch on Thursday in Group G and Group H Games. To be continued for latest news, updates and highlights.

USMNT: For their return to the World Cup, the young Americans contented themselves with a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener. The United States men’s national team will face a more difficult task on Friday against Group B favorite England, who demolished Iran, 6-2, earlier on Monday.

Qatari controversy: Football fans wearing the rainbow, a symbol of LGBTQ inclusivity, said they were denial of entry to World Cup stadiums and confronted members of the public to remove the emblem.

Support for groups: The United States men’s national soccer team, led by coach Gregg Berhalter and star striker Christian Pulisic, has qualified for the 2022 World Cup, an improvement on its disastrous and unsuccessful 2018 campaign. Here’s a close look how all the teams in each group rank.

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