The manager of Iran's national football team is under pressure to remove the team’s striker ahead of the World Cup in Qatar for voicing his support for the protesters, IranWire reports.
Carlos Queiroz has been under pressure from the Ministry of Sport to remove Sardar Azmoun, the team’s striker. The head of Iran's football federation has also asked the head coach not to invite Azmoun to Qatar, according to IranWire’s sources.
Queiroz is set to announce the lineup on Monday.
The 27-year-old Bayer Leverkusen forward disobeyed instructions from Iran’s football federation which forbade athletes from speaking out over the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini who died in police custody in September.
Azmoun was just 19 years old when he was invited by head coach Queiroz to join the Team Melli training camp in 2014. He became a permanent player in 2015 and today is likely the most famous member of the team internationally.
"At worst I’ll be dismissed from the national team… that’s no problem. I’d sacrifice that for one hair on the heads of Iranian women. This story will not be deleted. They can do whatever they like. Shame on you for killing so easily; long live Iranian women," Azmoun posted on Instagram last month.
Meanwhile, Iranian football star Ali Karimi has asked members of Iran's national football team Sunday 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.
Football is deeply politicized in Iran, and political interference in sports has been the norm since not long after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Top athletes are expected to follow the regime’s line on all matters, including those unrelated to sport – or at the very least, to remain silent.
Several footballers - as well as athletes in other sports - have refused to celebrate their victories since protests first broke out weeks ago.