AL RAYYAN, Qatar — Iran’s national anthem was met by halfhearted singing or mouthing of the words by players and the jeering whistles of thousands of fans at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium before the team played Wales on Friday in its second game at the World Cup.
The scene, and the sounds, was different from Iran’s opener against England on Monday, when players gave the anthem the stoic silent treatment, a form of protest that got global attention. Iran’s team, a regular at the tournament and long a unifying force in a divided country, has for months been trying to navigate the delicate internal politics of Iran, caught between government expectations and an ongoing national uprising.
Before Friday’s match against Wales, the stadium camera feeds showed a man sobbing as Iran’s anthem was played. When an emotional woman was shown, fans erupted in cheers. Elsewhere, others booed. In the seats, a woman unveiled a No. 22 jersey with the name Mahsa Amini on it. She was the 22-year-old who died while in police custody in September, sparking a growing movement of discontent about freedoms and women’s rights under Iran’s theocratic rule.
It was the actions of Iran’s players, though, that attracted the most attention. After standing silently during the anthem before their first game, they appeared to sing with varying degrees of commitment amid a mix of boos and cheers.
Iran’s fan base may be as incessantly noisy as any here at the World Cup. That was true before the game, as its fans and those arriving to cheer Wales emerged from the metro and spilled out toward Ahmad bin Ali Stadium. One woman coming off the metro started a chant — “Say her name! Mahsa! Amini!” — that has become common here. Others wore blue T-shirts that read, “Woman Life Freedom.” One man wore a shirt that read, “Arrest of Lawyers = Beginning of Your End” in English on the front and Arabic on the back.
World Cup security officers have been trained to look for such political displays. Before Monday’s game against England, fans were told they wee not allowed to bring or display Iran’s pre-revolutionary flag inside the stadium. Outside the arena on Friday, grim-faced officers patrolled in packs of five or six, wearing black-and-blue vests that read “security cells” on the back. A group of 10 officers surrounded one woman, argued with her and took something from her, perhaps a shirt.
Freed and frustrated, she disappeared into the stadium.