Iranian football star Ali Karimi has asked members of Iran's national football team to "choose the right side of history" after a government official suggested on Sunday that athletes who refuse to sing the national anthem should be cut from their teams.
Iran’s national volleyball team has become the latest group of Iranian athletes to decline to sing the national anthem before or after a match on Friday night, in a show of defiance against the government, which has been facing nationwide protests for weeks.
Players for the national football team refused to sing the national anthem at the start of a match against the United Arab Emirates in Dubai last week. They also refused to celebrate after winning the championship on November 6.
"If someone doesn’t sing the national anthem, they shouldn’t be in the national team," an Iranian politician said in response.
"Members of the national football team should take the time to think about this," Karimi wrote on his Instagram page, referring to the politician’s remarks. "Choose the right side of history."
The Iranian national anthem glorifies the Islamic Republic and its founders. Many Iranians regard "Ey Iran," a song which honors the Iranian soil and its history, as the real national anthem. The song can be traced back to the 1941 Anglo-Soviet invasion of the country.
The most recent wave of protests, triggered by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, have become one of the boldest challenges to the country's rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
During the demonstrations, women have waved their headscarves in the air and burnt them, in opposition to Iran's conservative dress codes.
Karimi, a World Cup veteran who has delighted Iranians throughout his glittering 18-year career, has been accused of being one of the "main leaders of recent riots" and "sympathizing with the enemy." Officials have confiscated his properties and torn down a statue of him.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has also called for Karimi’s arrest while IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency urged police in Tehran to contend with so-called "agitators".