Iran’s football team has reportedly been warned that their families will face “violence and torture” if they do not “behave” themselves for the rest of the World Cup.
A security source involved in the tournament has reportedly told CNN that the players were summoned to a meeting with officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following their refusal to sing the national anthem before their opening match against England on Nov 21.
Their silence was interpreted as support for the ongoing protests in Iran that followed the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police in September.
The team members were allegedly then told that their families face torture if they make any further political statements during the tournament.
The players then sang the anthem before their 2-0 victory over Wales last Friday.
The source was described as someone who is monitoring Iran’s security agencies operating in Qatar over the World Cup.
“There are a large number of Iranian security officers in Qatar collecting information and monitoring the players,” said the source - claiming that dozens of IRGC officers were monitoring the squad, which is being secluded from outsiders.
Carlos Queiroz, the Portuguese coach of Iran’s national team, had also met separately with IRGC officers, claimed the source.
Team Melli, as the Iran team is known, is traditionally a unifying force drawing support from pro-government and opposition Iranians alike.
But with the tournament taking place against a backdrop of 10 weeks of anti-government protests, the players have faced mounting pressure from both protesters and the government.
Before their first match, Iran captain Ehsan Hajsafi expressed his condolences to families who had lost loved ones in the crackdown on protests.
“Let them know that we are with them and sympathise with them,” he said. “We have to accept that the conditions in our country are not right and our people are not happy.”
An IRGC officer said on Tuesday that more than 300 people have died in the protests - a far higher figure than officials have previously acknowledged, and closer to the over 400 people that human rights groups say have been killed.
“Everyone in the country has been affected by the death of this lady,” said Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh in a video published by the Mehr news agency, referring to Amini.
“I don't have the latest figures, but I think we have had perhaps more than 300 martyrs and people killed,” among them some of “the best sons of the country”, said Brig Hajizadeh, head of the IRGC aerospace division.