Defending champions Uruguay boycotted the second World Cup in protest of most European countries not sending their teams in the inaugural edition in 1930, which was also held in Uruguay. In 1938, the Italian players took the field wearing black jerseys in protest of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime. The players also gave a military style salute to the spectators in the gallery.

What about the ‘Nuremberg protest’ in the 2006 World Cup? Iran’s erstwhile president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said before the World Cup that the ‘the holocaust’ during the second world war is nothing but an invention of the allied powers. Germans protested the comment in the streets of Nuremberg before Iran’s first match in the World Cup.

However, on 23 November, the protest of the German players wasn’t anything like that. They didn’t even utter a word. In the photo session before their match against Japan, the players simply hid their mouths with their hands.

That’s all it took. Everyone instantly knew it was a protest against infringement of freedom of speech and the protest was directed towards FIFA.

Iran, however, didn’t protest against FIFA. Back home, the Iranian government is not hesitating to lay down rows of dead bodies to muzzle the voice of dissent. So the Iranian players chose to use the World Cup as a platform to protest against their atrocities. They protested by not singing their national anthem before their first match in the World Cup against England.

The likes of Mehdi Taremi and Majid Hosseini showed their support to their countrymen by not singing their national anthems. But the Iranian people were not satisfied with just that. To them, the protest of the players is like the title of one of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s books –‘It’s too little’ (Oti olpo hoilo). So, the Iranian spectators jeered their own players during the match against England.

Last September, a Kurdi woman named Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian police for not abiding by the hijab law. Later, she died while in police custody. Mass protests erupted in Iran. The Iranian government is using all their might to suppress the protests and so far, around 400 Iranians have lost their lives and around 16 thousand have been arrested.

The Iranian people expected that the national team players will speak up in protest. Hence, they were not satisfied with the silent protest.

On the other hand, Iran’s coach Carlos Queiroz didn’t like the reaction of the supporters. Queiroz said that in a tournament like the World Cup, his players are mainly focused on the thing that matters the most – football!

About the jeers of the Iranian fans, Queiroz said in no uncertain terms, “Why did they come here to be against the team? We don’t need them. It’s much better they stay home.”

The spectators are bound to return home. But what about the players? There are fears about them safely returning to their homes. Tehran City Council’s chairman Mehdi Chamran has already sent out a warning, “We will never allow anyone to insult our anthem and flag.”

FIFA too had sent out a warning. Everyone knows about Qatar’s conservative stance over the ‘LGBT’ issue. European teams like the Netherlands, England, France, Denmark, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Germany wanted to wear the ‘One Love’ armband on the field in protest of that.

To stop them, FIFA threatened them with punishment and also specified an armband for all captains to wear in the World Cup. FIFA said that it is committed to uphold the laws and traditions of the host country.

Every team backed out from their stance, but not Germany. Yes, they didn’t wear the special armband, but protested the infringement of freedom of speech in a unique manner by covering their mouths with their hands.

Now say, how can one not mix sports and politics!

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy