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Iran police arrest footballers after attending New Year's party

State-linked media says players, some of whom back the protest movement, were intoxicated at a mixed-gender party when they were detained
The Azadeh stadium in Tehran (AFP/file photo)

A number of unidentified Iranian footballers were arrested in the northern city Damavand for attending a mixed-gender New Year’s Eve party where alcohol was consumed, according to state-affiliated media.

“Several current and former players of one of Tehran’s prominent football clubs were arrested last night at a mixed party in the city of Damavand,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency said on Sunday.

“Some of these players were in an abnormal state due to alcohol consumption.”

Tasnim, which is closely linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), associated the footballers with the protest movement which has swept across Iran over the past four months. 

“It is worth mentioning that some of the detainees have said in their interviews in recent days that they had no desire for competition or speaking about football because of the recent events and in solidarity with people,” the report stated. 

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Widespread women-led demonstrations rocked Iran in September following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody after she was arrested for allegedly wearing her headscarf “improperly”. 

Several athletes, including footballers, have expressed solidarity with the protest movement. 

In October, rock climber Elnaz Rekabi participated in a competition in South Korea without wearing the mandatory headscarf and returned home to a hero's welcome in Tehran from protesters.

Yet a few days after her competition, a post from Rekabi's Instagram account stated she had dropped her headscarf by mistake and said: "I firstly apologise for all the concerns I have caused."

Earlier this week, two Iranian chess players participated in an international tournament without the headscarf, in what was also interpreted as an act of protest. 

Footballers speak out

During their first match at the men's World Cup in Qatar, Iran’s footballers did not sing their national anthem after several players spoke out about the unrest back home.

Sardar Azmoun, who competed at the tournament, said on Instagram in September: “The ultimate [punishment] is to be kicked out of the national team, which is a small price to pay for even a single strand of Iranian women’s hair. Shame on you for easily killing the people and viva women of Iran. Long live Iranian women!”

He later apologised for his comments and was included in the World Cup squad.

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Ali Karimi, an ex-Iranian footballer who was once labelled the “Asian Maradona”, also heavily criticised Iranian authorities and called for protests across the country. 

Ali Daei, arguably the most famous Iranian footballer ever, had his passport confiscated by government officials in September after backing the protests. 

Earlier this week, authorities forced a Dubai-bound flight to return to Iran in order to prevent Daei’s wife and daughter from leaving the country, Tasnim reported. 

Last month, the international football players’ union FIFPRO said it was “shocked and sickened” by reports that Iranian footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani was sentenced to death, though Iran’s judiciary denies that such a sentence was handed out. 

Amnesty International has said that Iranian authorities are seeking the death penalty for at least 26 people in what it called "sham trials designed to intimidate those participating in the popular uprising that has rocked Iran".

Human Rights Activists News Agency, an Iranian rights group, said that as of last week, 506 protesters, including 69 minors, and 66 members of the security forces have been killed since the start of the demonstration. As many as 18,457 protesters have been arrested, it added.

Officials have said that up to 300 people, including members of the security forces, have lost their lives in the unrest.

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