Former striker Ali Daei declines FIFA's invitation to attend the World Cup to accompany his countrymen "on days when most of us are not well"

Iran's greatest ever footballer says 'no' to Qatar in support of protests

photo_camera REUTERS/AHMED JADALLAH - Former Iranian footballer Ali Daei during the draw for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre in Doha on April 1, 2022

El mejor futbolista iraní de todos los tiempos dijo "no" . La leyenda Ali Daei rechazó el martes una invitación oficial de la FIFA y la Federación de Fútbol de Qatar para acompañar a su esposa e hijas a la controvertida Copa del Mundo que comienza el 20 de noviembre en el pequeño país del Golfo. Lo hace, dice, para acompañar a sus compatriotas en un contexto marcado por protestas masivas que exigen un cambio de régimen en Irán. 

Así lo anunció en una publicación en la red social Instagram, donde tiene más de 10,5 millones de seguidores. Ali Daei prefiere no salir de su país "en los días en que la mayoría de nosotros no estamos bien", admite . El exfutbolista se ha mostrado especialmente crítico con la brutal represión de las autoridades, que ha provocado la muerte de al menos 326 personas y la detención de 16.000, según cifras de Iran Human Rights, la ONG con sede en Oslo. 

El exdelantero de 53 años expresó sus condolencias "a las familias que han perdido a sus seres queridos" como consecuencia de la brutalidad policial . La Unión Europea impuso sanciones adicionales a Teherán el lunes por la represión de lo que el presidente francés, Emmanuel Macron, ya describió como una "revolución".

Ali Daei

The death in police custody of young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini on 16 September sparked a series of demonstrations across the country chanting "death to the dictator", aimed at overthrowing the theocratic regime installed in Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Amini had been arrested by the Morality Police for wearing the veil incorrectly. She died three days later, presumably as a result of the ill-treatment she was subjected to. 

The authorities claimed that the 22-year-old woman had health problems that caused her death, but the 53-year-old former footballer has challenged the official version on social media. He was not alone. Hundreds of thousands of people in Iran are also questioning the explanation of the security forces, who have a long history of human rights violations. The difference in this case is that his voice carries enormous weight within the country, even 15 years after hanging up his boots.

Ali Daei is an icon in Iran, where football is also the number one sport. He is the national team's top scorer with 109 goals in 149 appearances, an exorbitant tally only surpassed by five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo with Portugal. In fact, Daei was until last season the player who had scored the most goals for his national team in the history of the game. Big words. He was not so successful, however, in his short stint as coach. 

His records made him one of the best Asian players in the world. Daei played for, among others, Bayern Munich. With the Bavarian club, he contributed six goals to the Bundesliga title at the end of the season. But he is best remembered at Hertha Berlin. In October, the German club denounced the situation of their former player, whose passport had been withdrawn for speaking out against systemic repression in Iran. 

The former FIFA football committee member between 2007 and 2013 declined the body's offer and wished "good times for Iran and Iranians". Daei was not the only sportsman to speak out in favour of the protests, nor was he the only footballer. He was joined by former Bayern Munich player Ali Karimi and Hamburg player Mehdi Mahdavikia. All of them retired.

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World Cup controversy 

The internal situation in Iran has cast a shadow over the Persian team's participation in the World Cup. In addition, the displays of disagreement among athletes over the repressive behaviour of the authorities have been the general trend in recent weeks. The reactions have set off alarm bells at the Iranian Football Federation. The body has warned ahead of the Qatar World Cup that any gestures of a political nature will be punished on the basis of the Olympic Committee's Code of Ethics and FIFA rules. 

Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz, who will lead the Iranian national team for the second time at a World Cup, has been in the eye of the storm after being asked at a press conference whether his players could protest against the Iranian regime's actions. The former Real Madrid coach replied that "everyone has the right to express themselves", although he avoided commenting on the current situation in the country

Pese a la presión política, Queiroz incluyó en la plantilla de 26 hombres al delantero del Bayer Leverkusen Sardar Azmoun , que también se ha mostrado crítico con las medidas represivas de las autoridades. Junto a Mehdi Taremi, delantero del Oporto, Azmoun será la estrella de un equipo que se juega el orgullo nacional en la fase de grupos. Debutará en el Mundial ante Inglaterra y luego ante Estados Unidos, el gran enemigo del país.

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